Military Green Tech: Trash to Power

The War on Terror is dirty business, but the Army is trying to turn some of that military excess into reclaimed power by deploying two trash-chomping biorefineries to Iraq, the AP reports. Called “tactical biorefineries” — because regular biorefineries clearly aren’t tactical enough — each unit weighs about 4 tons and makes trash into fuel for an on-board 60-kilowatt generator.

biorefinery

The biorefineries are designed to ingest unfiltered garbage, from, say, a barracks or a mess hall. The garbage is ground up and organic food waste is separated out and fermented into ethanol while other waste, including plastics and cardboard, is heated and gasified into low-grade propane or methane in a parallel system. The resulting fuels are burned in a modified diesel engine to produce green electricity for our boys in green, err khaki.

Dan Nolan, who is working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to reduce the military’s fossil fuel use, told the AP that “This is probably the most ambitious program we’ve done.” The refineries are the result of a 2006 defense contract with Defense Life Sciences and Purdue University biomass experts. The first generator cost about $1 million to develop and build and construction of the second unit is underway.

What actually makes the biorefinery “tactical” is its size: roughly that of a small moving van, which makes it easy to deploy in battle or transport for disaster relief. Even better, researchers tested the unit in November and found that it produced 90 percent more energy than it consumed.

The refineries would replace the diesel power generators now used. While a step in the right direction, each biorefinery would only displace 115 gallons of diesel a day. Now we just need enough cleantech, military and otherwise, to obviate entire oil wars.

Photo Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communication photo by Tom Campbell.

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