WARREN, Mich. — The U.S. Army unveiled a new laboratory Wednesday that can simulate Afghanistan's desert heat and Antarctica's extreme cold in an effort to discover how to save energy and make combat vehicles fuel-efficient.
Officials said energy research is necessary to save money over the long term and to keep soldiers safe. U.S. fuel convoys, for example, have been targets for attack in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We've got to reduce those convoys," Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, a deputy chief of staff in Army logistics, said as he joined other military officials in opening the 32,000-square-foot site in Warren, just north of Detroit.
The facility, named the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory, actually has eight separate labs under one roof. Research will be conducted on electrical systems, heating and cooling, fuel cells, hybrid powertrains, advanced batteries and even air filters.
Separately, the Obama administration is working on a series of initiatives to create a greener U.S. military that are intended to benefit the environment and improve fighting capabilities. The Defense Department wants to generate 3 gigawatts of electricity – enough to power 750,000 homes – from renewable sources such as solar and wind on military bases by 2025.
The military uses 90 percent of the energy consumed by the federal government, which accounts for about 2 percent of all U.S. energy consumption.
Jennifer Hitchcock, who oversees the lab as interim director of Army vehicle research and development, said vehicles have become heavier in recent years to protect soldiers from attack.
"They use more fuel," she said in an interview. "We need to find a balance between mobility and survivability. How can we save fuel on the battlefield?"
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., played a significant role in creating the lab as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the lab will attract interest from domestic and foreign automakers whose engineers can lend expertise and learn a few things, too.
"It's right where it belongs, in Michigan, the heart of the global auto industry," Levin said.