U.S. Army’s New Research Center Puts Fossil Fuels on Notice

The U.S. Army's new GSPEL laboratory complex in Warren, Michigan will push the market for more sustainable vehicle technologies.


If we need just one more reason to be convinced that the era of fossil fuels is quickly winding down, 30,000 square feet of evidence is going up right now in the suburban Detroit town of Warren, Michigan. That’s where the U.S. Army is building its new Ground System Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL), and it’s no accident that the site is deep in the heart of the U.S. auto industry.

The high tech GSPEL complex features eight separate laboratories, all dedicated to the development of more sustainable military vehicles and related systems: increasing energy efficiency, using more renewable resources, focusing on ready access to energy and power, and reducing environmental impacts. It’s all part of the military’s overall drive to shed fossil fuels—both foreign domestic—and focus on energy security for the 21st century.

Energy Security = More Green Jobs

To put things in perspective, the M1 Abrams tank gets just over 0.5 miles per gallon, and tanks are just one element in the U.S. Army’s half-million strong fleet of vehicles, making it the owner of the single largest fleet in the world.

The Army is well aware of its potential for pulling the entire civilian market into a more sustainable future in which oil and other fossil fuels follow national defense goals rather than leading them. To that end, GSPEL will focus on partnering with industry and academic researchers to ensure a more rapid transfer of sustainable technologies to the commercial market, starting with a new advanced vehicle battery that can be sourced in the U.S. The focus on domestic sourcing derives from national security goals, but It’s also a green economy twofer in which the new jobs created at GSPEL will be leveraged to create even more green jobs in domestic industries. Go, Army!

GSPEL as a Green Laboratory

One key piece of equipment for GSPEL is the highest power-level power processing unit in the U.S., called AV-800. Supplied by AeroVironment, the grid-connected unit is used to test new technologies but instead of releasing spent energy it is capable of returning more than 90% of the energy back to the grid. Its near-megawatt scale is needed for next-generation fleet testing on hybrid-electric vehicles, both manned and unmanned, as well as grid-connected batteries, fuel cell systems, and other stationary devices.

Army, Meet Al Gore

Like former vice president Al Gore, our U.S. Army labored on sustainability issues for many years without anyone in the civilian world paying much attention, until recently that is. GSPEL is part of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive, Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), which actually has its roots in World War II. Advanced batteries, hybrid electric powertrains, fuel cells, and lightweight materials have been some of the areas of focus.

In a recent Army press release, TARDEC Director Dr. Grace M. Bochenek explains that the center’s integrated system-of-systems and lifecycle approaches to research and development will translate into GSPEL programs that focus on new fuels and lubricants, alternative energy sources, and energy storage among others (system-of-systems means pooling resources to increase functionality and performance). As Dr. Bochenek rather Gore-ishly expresses it, the Army has to “think about our power and energy needs in a holisitc manner because it’s the only way to derive the most value.”

Image: U.S. Army (Sgt. Paula Taylor) on wikimediacommons.org.

Tina Casey

Tina writes frequently for CleanTechnica and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.