Air Force makes 'good progress' on project looking at cost per square foot of technologies like algae, electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, aims to eliminate energy costs by 2020

HURLBURT FIELD, Florida , November 17, 2011 () – Through Project Renewable Energy Demonstration, researchers are working to find the most cost-effective technology to bring the base closer to the Air Force's goal of eliminating energy costs by 2020.

Air Force Special Operations Command scientist Dave Robau said he and his team are looking at the cost per square foot for each form of green technology in the project.

"I think we've made good progress," Robau said. "It's phenomenal."

The experiments, known as Project RED, include tanks of algae that could become the next tank of biodiesel fuel; a 100 percent electric car and truck that can travel up to 50 mph; and low-cost solar panels that when combined with wind turbines can generate enough power to light up four homes.

"It is a surprising success," George Omley, AFSOC's environmental chief, said in an Air Force news release issued recently. "We are charging this electric vehicle with the sun to give us free mileage and running our algae lab (while) using only 10 percent of the power. The other 90 percent is running backwards on the grid."

The $18,000 car and truck are DOT-certified. If the Air Force gets license plates for the vehicles, they can be driven off base.

The current goal is to replace transportation that is not mission-related. For instance, the truck now is used to pick up recyclables.

"I think, in addition to the military, there are a lot of applications for this," Robau said.

Researchers also are devising a plan to set up charging stations on the base. Eventually, airmen will be able to scan their base identification at the charging stations and use the electric vehicles on the base.

"We're collecting data, trying to gain user acceptance," Robau said.

The vehicles can travel 150 miles on a six-hour charge. However, they do not have air conditioning.

Despite the tremendous potential for wind energy along the Emerald Coast, turbines were not originally considered an option. Air Force officials said the tall turbines could interfere with missions.

AFSOC researchers now are testing the latest generation of wind turbines. Ranging in height from 18 to 23 feet, the $7,000 turbines have proven to be effective energy alternatives that do not infringe on air space.

Robau said the average home can be powered by four of the turbines. Together, the two turbines and five solar panel systems are generating enough power to run the wet lab for the algae and the electric vehicles with power to spare.

Scientists also are testing three types of solar panels. The first is a new generation of lightweight panels that are the only panels in the test that do not have to penetrate a building's roof when installed.

They also are the only ones that must be installed on a white surface. They draw energy from the sun as well as reflected light waves. The company that produced the panels recently went out of business, but Robau said there most likely will be similar products hitting the market.

Robau said another solar panel system called the thin film is showing promise. In addition to generating comparable amounts of energy, each panel costs about $250, about half the cost of the average panel.

The panels are made with cheaper material and do not use expensive chemical elements such as titanium.

"The thin film uses nanotechnology," Robau said.

Researchers also are experimenting with several indigenous forms of algae to find the most cost-effective form of biodiesel fuel. After tests are completed in the wet lab, the algae are tested in containers of water placed outdoors.

"In this case, the thinking was if we could find a company that was interested in producing biodiesel from our algae and nutrients, then we would get either a payment in kind or a fraction of the biodiesel," Omley said in the news release. "The jury is still out."

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