Afghanistan-NREL Mission

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In August 2009, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps sent a team of active-duty Marines accompanied by two civilian experts to visit bases in Afghanistan to assess the potential for reducing fuel and water demands through energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. NREL's John Barnett with the Deployment and Industry Partnerships Office was asked to join the team, which began its work at the end of August and returned home safely on September 21. The solutions the team identified could result in fewer deaths and injuries to U.S. military personnel involved in convoy operations, and also reduce losses of material and supplies.

The focus of the team's work was at sites in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold and center of Afghanistan's opium production. Today in Afghanistan, convoys transport fuel, water, and other supplies to forward-operating bases. These convoys are the target of roadside attacks that can result in lost or wounded soldiers and the destruction of equipment, ammunition, and other supplies. On investigation, the team noted that by improving building insulation and generator load management, the bases could save half of the diesel fuel used to generate electricity, which roughly translates to eliminating one or two vehicles from every 10 in a typical convoy. Further, reducing the importation of bottled water to bases could remove as many as half of the vehicles in a typical convoy. The team noted that the Marines could eliminate the use of bottled water in the field by drilling wells on-site.

A number of longer-term energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions were identified and recommended to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, including:

  • Regulating climate control settings
  • Installing solar panels (could also use solar ovens for food preparation)
  • Using solar-thermal water heaters
  • Generating electricity by burning refuse
  • Solar-powered lighting, water pumping, and water purification
  • Determining the feasibility of wind turbines in certain outposts.

"Helmand Province is a very difficult operational environment," said Barnett. "It was exciting to participate in an activity that—through integrated application of the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that are NREL's particular expertise—may help save lives and dollars."

Currently, Barnett is working to summarize the lessons learned from this trip for application to NREL's growing support of reducing tactical energy use. The NREL team is also planning to support an Afghanistan energy assessment for the Air Force.

Read more about John's trip in the DOE Energy Empowers blog


  1.  "NREL Now Lab Talk Week of December 21, 2009"