Trash to the Rescue

Who knew the day would come when the air force's response to a bomb, cyberattack, or natural disaster would be trash? Lots and lots of trash.

Hawaii's Air Force Research Laboratory is putting in $6.8 million to fund a trash-to-power system for its Air National Guard unit, who pilots the nation's most advanced fighter jet. The system uses a microgrid, which is capable of independently producing electricity from the Hawaiian Electric in case of an emergency.

"If their buildings go off power, or if (Hawaiian Electric) has a cyberattack, or if we have a big hurricane that wipes out all their power lines, these guys still have the mission to do," said former Hawaii Air National Guard commander and current director of the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies, Retired Brig. Gen. Stan Osserman. "It doesn't stop."

Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Spitzer

How does the trash-to-power system work?

The facility would convert waste products such as wood, plastics, biomass, and other materials from Joint Base Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field to alternative fuel, which is what will produce electricity. The system is capable of converting as much as 10 tons of trash per day into 300 kilowatts of continuous electric power, or the total electrical load for about 100 U.S. homes

According to Osserman, the 154th Wing of the Hawaii Air National Guard unit, currently, only has a diesel generator with five to seven days' worth of diesel fuel...which is less than stellar.

He expects the waste-to-energy facility and grid project to extend the wing's ability to operate independently for weeks or even indefinitely, if the public-grid becomes subject to a cyberattack.

"From an Air Force perspective, mission assurance is paramount," said Lt. Col. Scott Fitzner, chief of AFRL's Acquisition Systems Support Branch. "If a technology can provide mission assurance through energy assurance, it can then be considered for more widespread implementation." 

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