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Home power problems, military solutions

Published by The Editors | Filed under future tech, photovoltaic, policy

It’s 2012, in the middle of the night. The batteries that your solar panels charged up during the day are on the blink, and power in your home is fading fast, so you might miss tonight’s episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant (there is really a show called this, we’re not making it up). You’re freaking out. All of a sudden in parachutes a team from the 82nd Airborne. You freak out some more. But they’re carrying portable fuel cells that they use to power your home back up. Crisis averted.

So this ridiculous scenario would never happen (the show you’d be worried about missing is actually another revival of Fox’s Paradise Hotel), but you will probably be enjoying better alternative energy solutions thanks to the U.S. military.

Can DARPA now score another double success by changing how both the military and civilian worlds consume and produce energy? DARPA’s first goal is always to magnify the might of the U.S. armed forces. That’s why Arlington (Va.)-based DARPA is devoting an estimated $100 million of its $3 billion annual budget to alternative energy.


In addition to spurring the development of palm-size fuel cells, DARPA has contracted with companies to miniaturize solar cells that would supplant the need for generators. It now wants to develop inexpensive diesel and jet fuel from algae that could be produced in the battle zone. All three programs include the aim of accelerating the manufacture of any new product by private companies, from whom the military could buy.

We’d wager that the entity responsible for the Internet will end up making some significant contributions to the field of alternative energy.

Key Stats: Current solar panel technology converts 20% of sunlight to electricity. DARPA's goal is to product panels that are 40% efficient.
Current cost of algae based fuel is $20-$30 per gallon. DARPA's goal is $3 per gallon fuel.
$400 million in stimulus dollars have been allocated to a new agency in the Energy Department, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.

Resources: BusinessWeek - Can the Military Find the Answer to Alternative Energy?

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