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Posted 12/15/11 (Thu)

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Midwest companies helping military go green

Posted: 3:16 pm Wed, December 7, 2011
By Frank Jossi
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Two e-Ride Industries’ EXV2 vehicles were delivered in 2010 to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The vehicles are still operating in that frigid environment in a pilot project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the National Science Foundation and Raytheon Polar Services. (Submitted photo: e-Ride Industries)


Iraq and Afghanistan are hot countries, and the U.S. military struggles to keep soldiers from suffering heat exhaustion that comes with high temperatures and heavy equipment.

A new approach by Plymouth-based Entropy Solutions Inc. employs thermal energy storage materials called Pure Temp into the lining of tents to reduce the need for diesel generators to power air conditioners in the summer — and heaters in the winter.

“The military is constantly searching for ways to reduce fuel consumption, and this is one way to do that,” said Entropy President Eric Lundquist.

Entropy Solutions is a member of the Minneapolis-based Defense Alliance, which helps connect companies in the state and Midwest with business opportunities in the military. Part of the alliance’s efforts focus on helping businesses in 21 states win contracts in the emerging military market for sustainability solutions.

From biofuels to solar energy and geothermal to electric vehicles, the military is investing big money in renewables, putting $1.2 billion into the green business pipeline last year, an investment only expected to grow, according to a recent report by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy & Climate.

The military’s green push affects Minnesota through the potential for contracts with employers and perhaps through improved efficiency in the state’s few bases. The 934th Airlift Wing in Minneapolis, the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth and the Arden Hills Training Site have all been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption, which the Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted in its report.

The Defense Alliance’s Advanced Power & Energy Cluster (APEC) is helping link Midwest businesses with military contracts. The U.S. Small Business Administration-funded project focuses on energy and the military but requires that companies have products useful in nonmilitary applications.

Chip Laingen, executive director of the Defense Alliance, said the military isn’t focusing on sustainability just because it’s a good and “green” thing to do.

“The active military has paid lip service to being green because what they have cared about is blowing stuff up,” he said. “But even the military cares about squeezing more money out of programs, and renewable can bring you significant savings.”

Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Trust’s Clean Energy Program, said the military is likely the biggest institutional user of energy in the world, spending $75 billion annually. Many of the convoys traveling in Iraq and Afghanistan under constant attack have been bringing oil to troops in bases.

Soldiers today use 174 percent more energy than their counterparts did in Vietnam, Cuttino said. Overseas the military uses 125,000 generators “that are noisy and dirty,” she noted, adding that the military’s bases have been notoriously inefficient power users for decades.

“Trying to save money on energy has been a real challenge for the Department of Defense,” she said. “It sees this as a transformational issue, and that creates different opportunities for companies.”

The alliance’s Advanced Power & Energy Cluster focuses on businesses providing products and services in five broad categories — generation, storage, distribution, conservation and supporting technologies. Laingen says the cluster has helped create 143 jobs and attracted $6.6 million in federal defense and private industry spending in one year. It has 82 member companies in 21 states.

While Laingen is happy with the results, he thinks the Midwest is hampered by being “flyover territory” and by the attitude by some businesses “that it’s not cool to be involved in the defense industry.”

That’s changing. Tom Nelson, who leads the cluster, said he has identified a handful of companies — and is looking for more — that have products of potential interest to the military. Nelson works with e-Ride, Slayton-based Backup Power Source, Packet Digital and Lloyd’s System, the latter two based in Fargo, N.D.

Another client, Silicon Energy, just opened a plant in Mount Iron with financial assistance from the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board. Jacobs Wind Electric, a long-established small turbine producer, also could sell to military bases, Nelson thinks.

Erik Crawford heads federal sales for e-Ride Industries, an electric vehicle manufacturer in Princeton, Minn. His company’s Jeep-sized vehicles, which have the option of solar panels attached to the roofs, have attracted the attention of the Armed Forces and are used at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

The company is close to seeing the military order 100 vehicles, and that number could eventually reach into the thousands, he said. The U.S. Postal Service is also testing e-Rides.

“The deals we’re in the running for will pale in comparison with previous sales by quite a bit,” Crawford said. “Any one of these opportunities changes the game for e-Ride.”

Having the cluster in its corner has been a boon for e-Ride, he said.

“They have a subject-matter-expert understanding of congressional and presidential mandates, and they make sure you use the right buzzwords to show how you’re going to help the DOD and agencies meet those mandates,” Crawford said.

The cluster’s other contribution has been to identify potential suppliers in the region. Crawford said that since meeting with Nelson, e-Ride has added three or four new suppliers to its roster.

Backup Power Source credits the cluster with getting its work in front of military personnel. The APEC “people and organization are dedicated to helping my company have the opportunity to sell directly to the U.S. government,” said President Larry Henderson in an email. “Members of our cluster have met with the top decision makers from the Navy as well as other government officials. Its approach is to recognize Minnesota and their businesses to be more than a ‘flyover zone.’”

The same is true of Entropy Solutions. The military applications for Pure Temp came from members of its staff who have served in the armed forces. The Pure Temp tents reduce heat by 38 percent and fuel use for heating and cooling by half, Lundquist said.

A secondary but important application is the production of Pure Temp-lined vests for use by military dogs that sniff out bombs. When the dogs get overheated they lose their sense of smell and often die by accidentally triggering bombs, Lundquist said.

The military contracts have assisted Entropy Solutions, a small privately held company, in seeing a sharp growth spurt. “As of September our sales are better this year than the last two years combined,” he said.