New Thermal Gadget Could Save Military Billions of Dollars a Year

A new twist on thermal technology, funded by Army and Department of Energy researchers, could change the way tanks and other military platforms consume and repurpose fuel — potentially saving the military billions of dollars a year.

Image source: GMZ
GMZ Energy’s new thermoelectric generator passed a key test to generate 1000 Watts to reduce fuel consumption on Army tanks. TARDEC, the U.S. Army’s research and development engineering center, is going to test the new thermoelectric generators on Bradley vehicles within the year (Image source: GMZ Energy)

Picture a gadget that captures the heat from the exhaust of your car and then converts it into useable energy. That is the concept behind GMZ Energy’s new thermoelectric generator, which just finished it’s first round of successful testing — cranking out a whopping 1000W from their diesel prototype.

Thermoelectric generators work by converting thermal energy into electric energy. Heat is applied to one side of the module, and cold applied to the other.

“All you really need is to put the module against the heat, capturing the heat out of the exhaust, then have a way to capture the cool water,” Diuguid explained.

But designing the module to operate in an extremely high temperature environment, and to scale it to work within a tank engine block adds to the complexity.

This isn’t the first time the military has sought out and tested thermoelectric generators, but the key is to find a version that is rugged enough to be used on a tank.

“The difference between other examples of fuel efficiency solutions and ours is they all moving parts,” Cheryl Diuguid, CEO of GMZ Energy, told TheBlaze. “But when you are in a battlefield situation you don’t want something breaking down.”

Diuguid said their new generator gives the military a product they can actually use in a wartime environment; previous experiments with reusable energy solutions simply couldn’t stand up to the wear and tear from years of use in Afghanistan or other overseas locations.

“Fuel efficient, thermoelectric options are attractive, but they’ve been too delicate to be deployed,” — said. “But our nano technology processes added the necessary mechanical strength.”

As if creating a gadget that will reduce a tank’s gas bill wasn’t hard enough,  the researchers had to finish the tests while the end product is still shrouded in secrecy.

“The challenge we’ve had there is some level of security on the project so we didn’t even get hard defined specs to use,” Diuguid told TheBlaze. “They gave us indicative specs and said, ‘You’re in the right ballpark,’ but we don’t get to know exactly what they will do with it.”

So why is the military investing in this research? It takes a lot of gas to move a tank over the rugged landscape of Afghanistan or other deployed locations.

While driving an eight-hour mission, an M-1 Abrams tank will get somewhere between half and one mile per gallon — and guzzle around 300 gallons of fuel. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle gets slightly better numbers, barely breaking the one mile per gallon threshold.

On average, the military consumes roughly 4.6 Billion gallons of fuel each year.

The services have experimented with solar farms and alternative, bio-fuels for everything from carriers to fighter jets, but with the average annual fuel costs for the Department of Defense topping $16 Billion each year the military, it’s no surprise that the Defense Department would explore any viable option to reduce these costs.  And as nanotechnology has enabled solid state solutions, thermoelectric generators have become attractive to offices like TARDEC, the Army’s research and development engineering center.

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Sandel from DeRidder, La. with C. 3rd Battalion, 156 Infantry Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, on patrol in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. (US Army photo taken by Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuckey, 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment)
Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Sandel from DeRidder, La. with C. 3rd Battalion, 156 Infantry Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, on patrol in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. TARDEC, the U.S. Army’s research and development engineering center, is going to test the new thermoelectric generators on Bradley vehicles now that they prototype passed the 1000W initial diesel test (US Army photo)

Now that GMZ’s generator passed it’s initial test, TARDEC will begin testing the gadget in Bradley Fighting Vehicles, but the tech can be used in a wide range of vehicles or tools in the field.

“During [the] initial lab demonstration, the 1,000W TEG, which exceeded several of the TARDEC program’s specifications, ran continuously for five hours with no failure or degradation in performance,” GMZ said. “The U.S. military is especially interested in cost-saving thermoelectric technologies … which can be integrated into passenger vehicles, enable self-powered boilers and much more.”

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