Commentary by Lt. Col. Patrick Suermann
Air Force Academy Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
10/16/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- "I
am Air Force Energy" is more than just a catchphrase at the Air Force
Academy. Those words, provided by Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Energy Dr. Kevin Geiss as the theme for Energy Awareness Month,
resonates at the Air Force Academy, whose faculty are innovating across
the spectrum of academic departments to further educate and develop
future leaders of character and advance energy technology.
After studying energy-related topics in two core courses, Chemistry 110
and Physics 110, cadets can take the science and technology energy
systems core option or specialize in approximately 17 major's courses
from Economics to Engineering that deal with the importance of being
informed energy consumers and engineers.
Dr. Darrell Pepper, a distinguished visiting professor from the
University of Nevada-Las Vegas teaching in the Academy's Engineering
Mechanics Department, donated a 3-kilowatt wind turbine for study in the
renewable energy course offered here. The turbine provides hands-on
experience for cadets, Pepper said.
In time, Pepper said he expects the turbine will be moved outdoors so cadets can study it in a more realistic setting.
"This class, with its practical approach, will prepare our cadets to
make energy-wise decisions when they are leaders in the Air Force," said
Dr. Mike Maixner, an instructor in the Engineering Mechanics
Department. "The Defense Department will greatly benefit from
Similarly, Dr. Karen Henry received a grant to install an energy
foundation system and associated monitoring equipment in a lavatory
facility recently constructed at the Field Engineering and Readiness
Laboratory in Jacks Valley. The facility uses a geothermal approach to
heating and cooling: Energy foundations combine with the structural
supports for a building with a heat pump so that the foundations can be
used as ground-source heat exchangers.
This provides a cost-efficient approach to conserve energy, reduce
carbon emissions and reduce installation costs. Eventually, Henry will
compare measured performance indicators, including construction and
lifecycle costs, with those expected for conventional heating and
Lt. Col. Andrew Laffely, Maj. Brian Cooper and Al Mundy have established
a renewable energy lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering
Department with support from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The
lab allows cadets to study the implementation of wind and solar energy.
In the past four years, cadets have developed wind turbines, solar
power systems and an electric vehicle. The team is currently integrating
these technologies into a deployable vehicle system and modular
microgrid that can operate without external fuel supply for the life of
the battery system.
Col. Robert Kraus, the Academy's chief scientist and director of
research, and Dr. Randy Knize, the center director, highlight two
projects at different levels of completion: cycloidal wave energy and
silicon's use in photovoltaic solar cells.
Academy researchers studied wave energy conversion using cycloidal
turbines from September 2008 to August 2012. The project demonstrated
advances in harnessing ocean waves and resulted in the foundation of a
spinoff company, Atargis Energy Corporation. Atargis Energy obtained
U.S. Energy Department funding to further advance their approach.
Knize also overseas Academy researchers conducting studies into black
silicon. Silicon is the premier material for the conversion of solar
energy directly into electrical energy. They are investigating a process
that uses laser irradiation to increase silicon's absorption, thus
increasing energy conversion. Black silicon was invented at Harvard
about 10 years ago; research shows it could improve the efficiency of
solar cells. Knize's research team showed that black silicon could be
created with less expense using nanosecond lasers and possibly
The Defense Department is the largest federal energy consumer, and the
Air Force is the largest energy consumer in the DOD. With this
understanding, faculty members here will continue to do their part to
think and act locally with research that will yield benefits globally.