ONR has teamed up with Raytheon, Battelle and Emcore, who have developed concepts for hybrid systems that use sunlight, heat and fuel to create electricity. One option is to combine a Stirling engine with a solar concentrator resembling a satellite dish that can harness the power of 1,000 suns. Another is to use powerful solar cells to collect sunlight in conjunction with an efficient solid oxide fuel cell.
“This program takes on a number of power-related challenges and ultimately will allow the Marine Corps to take a big step toward its goal of using fuel only for mobility purposes by 2025,” said H. Scott Coombe, product manager for RSEP, a collaboration between ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism and Sea Warfare and Weapons departments.
The systems must be smart enough to independently switch back and forth from solar power when the sun is out to fuel at night or when there is heavy cloud cover. They also have to be compact enough to fit on a small trailer towed by a Humvee so they can be hauled to forward positions. So far, solar concentrators have been too large to carry around the battlefield.
Expectations are high and the researchers believe a successful product could reduce fuel needs by 40 percent for expeditionary power systems, with a continual output of 3 kilowatts. It also will be much quieter than current systems and have the potential to use biofuels.
RSEP is a five-year Future Naval Capabilities program. ONR will evaluate the industry teams each year and could keep working with one or more of the industry products or continue to explore other options for renewable power sources.