Florida International University's renewable energy test with SouthCom gets 'A' grade
By Ryan Kelly
A mobile, renewable-energy medical center successfully tested in the Dominican Republic as part of a partnership between the military's Southern Command and Florida International University indicates that a mix of renewable energy sources can power emergency response centers.
The 500-square-foot tent is powered from energy stored in two lithium ion batteries, which are charged by solar panels that line the tent and two wind turbines 100 feet away. The unit also has a backup generator capable of using 100% biofuel that kicks in whenever the batteries are out and shuts off whenever they're on.
The test proved to SouthCom and FIU that a center powered by wind, solar, biodiesel and lithium-ion battery energy sources can be used to run rapidly deployable centers, such as clinics and command posts.
The system hasn't been tested in hostile climates though, noted Army Lt. Col. Vincent Grizio of SouthCom.
"We've seen it work in the general sense, but maybe not in the extreme sense," he said.
Set up as a dental clinic in the Dominican city of Santa Cruz de Mao, the center provided electricity and cool temperatures for dentists to treat their patients.
By using the suite of renewable energy sources to power the center, operators were able to shrink their fuel dependency.
The amount of gasoline needed to run the system dropped from 24 gallons a day to four gallons, Lt. Col. Grizio said.
The center, known as WHIX-08, is the most recent project in an ongoing military program called Western Hemisphere Information Exchange. The program intends to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Western Hemisphere by trading information.
"We reach out to our partner nations," Lt. Col. Grizio said, "and see who would like to be a part of this information exchange."
University researchers working on this mobile medical center project wanted to make sure that users from the partner nation, in this case the Dominican Republic, found the system easy to use.
"The level we were trying to get for the user when they show up in the tent is where it would be seamless for them," said Jerry Miller, associate director for security policy and technologies at FIU's Applied Research Center. "They can just plug in and receive the power."
The assembled medical unit was left with the Dominican military as part of the agreement.
There are no plans to buy more, Lt. Col. Grizio said, "because we have to go through the data and make sure it can do everything we want it to do."
The goal was never mass production, he added, but was to simply see if the technology worked.
Mr. Miller agrees this was a first step.
"The purpose of this was to validate the technology."
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