While everyone has been freaking out over the switch to electric stoves, the US Department of Defense has been quietly pulling an electric switcheroo of its own. The sprawling agency has been slowly introducing electric vehicles into its non-tactical fleet, and it is getting ready to jump into tactical vehicles, too.
Electric Vehicles For The Defense Dept.
Although the Defense Department has been slow to take up fleet electrification, it has helped to lay the groundwork for a rapid turnover, partly by pushing the envelope on vehicle-to-grid technology.
Back in 2013, for example, the Defense Department put out word that it would lease 500 electric vehicles for its permanent bases in the US, for a cutting edge EV-to-grid initiative in partnership with the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the smart grid company Akuacom (a branch of Honeywell since 2010), along with the cloud services provider Kisensum, which was acquired by ChargePoint in 2018.
Los Angeles Air Force Base was among the participants. Its fleet of 42 electric vehicles aimed to demonstrate that aggregations of EV batteries could participate in a grid frequency regulation market, an area that also overlaps with the up-and-coming virtual power plant field.
The trial “successfully demonstrated that vehicle-to-grid is technically and operationally feasible,” Berkeley Lab noted in a 2018 recap, though the lab also observed that the economic value to fleet owners was not clear.
More Electric Vehicles For The Defense Dept.
The Defense Department played its EV cards close to the vest during the Trump administration, but activity began to pick up after President Joe Biden took office with a mission to decarbonize the entire federal fleet.
The plot thickened during President Biden’s first term in office, when the US Postal Service picked Oshkosh Defense for a fleet makeover. Though not particularly known for its track record in manufacturing electric vehicles, Oshkosh has partnered with other EV stakeholders on various electrification contracts. Last year the company also proposed a hybrid tactical platform to be shared by the Army and Marine Corps, for the Defense Department’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.
The Defense Department has also been engaging with the startup Canoo, and that’s where things really get interesting. Canoo has been coming on strong over the past couple of years, including an order for 4,500 of its vans last summer (check out our complete coverage here).
NASA also raised the Canoo profile last spring, when it selected the company to provide launchpad transportation for astronauts in its Artemis moon mission.
Flexible Modules For Electric Vehicle Batteries
The somewhat odd appearance of Canoo’s lozenge-shaped vans masks a flexible, modular design that sparked the interest of the US Army, which ordered up exactly one vehicle to analyze last summer.
Canoo delivered the vehicle in November, describing it as a jack-of-all-trades.
“[T]he Light Tactical Vehicle can be converted from a pickup to a flatbed truck, a cargo vehicle and more. With a convertible flatbed platform, the LTV can easily carry standard sized plywood, construction and oversized materials, as well as tactical equipment or attachments for the required mission,” Canoo explained.
“The LTV is engineered for extreme environments and includes stealth configurations,” they added.
Other features of note include a cost-saving modular attachment system that enables operators to switch up the interior for different missions, along with a raised suspension, all-terrain tires and other performance tweaks for off-road use.
The Army must have liked what they saw already, because last week the Defense Innovation Unit tasked Canoo with supplying EV battery modules for analysis, with modules being the keyword.
“Canoo’s proprietary battery system is modular to support different vehicle configurations and engineered to provide industry-leading energy density,” the company stated. “The system is designed to be flexible and compatible with cells from leading battery providers and engineered to evolve with changes in cell size and chemistry as the industry matures, scales and reduces costs.”
Wait, What Is The Defense Innovation Unit?
CleanTechnica has spilled plenty of ink over the Defense Department’s contributions to the energy transition, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and of course, DARPA.
The Defense Innovation Unit, not so much. However, the office has been around since 2015. Where DARPA and similar programs aim to push the envelope on game-changing, emerging technologies, DIU launched with a mission to accelerate the adoption of market-ready products.
“DIU strengthens our national security by accelerating the adoption of leading commercial technology throughout the military and growing the national security innovation base,” they explain.
In a recap issued on August 27, 2020, the Defense Department proudly noted that DIU “awarded more than 160 contracts to commercial companies at a faster rate than what might have been expected from the Defense Department,” with a particular emphasis on artificial intelligence and commercial drones.
DIU Director Mike Brown also reminded everyone that his agency launched a new funding platform called National Security Innovation Capital. It was included in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but not yet funded as of 2020.
Funding came through in time to launch NSIC in 2021, with the aim of accelerating promising startups into the market, in the absence of private sector interest.
More Electric Vehicles For The US
NSIC is among those aiming to push lithium-sulfur electric vehicle batteries into the market, through its support for the materials innovator Lyten.
In September of 2021, Lyten emerged from stealth mode with the launch of a lithium-sulfur, graphene-doped battery platform called LytCell EV, claiming an improvement of three times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion batteries.
“Lyten…has worked closely with the U.S. Government for several years to test and improve LytCell™ capabilities in select defense-related applications and is now ready to introduce its battery technology platform to the electric vehicle market,” the company explained.
NSIC upped the ante on that relationship last year, when it provided support for Lyten to launch a pilot line as the next step towards commercial production.
All of this is by way of saying that electric vehicles and other decarbonization tools are taking over with a powerful assist from the US military, regardless of all the hot air bandied about by anti-ESG elected officials.
As for gas stoves, anyone who remembers the light bulb wars may recall a lot of hot air swirling around that topic, too, until the dust finally settled in favor of energy efficiency.
Legislation or not, interest in new gas hookups is likely to fall as new and improved household technologies come to market, including new induction stoves as well as heat pumps, home energy storage, and electric vehicles.
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Photo: Electric vehicles from Canoo (via Dropbox).