Renewable energy system takes first Defence Innovation Challenge prize
Article / February 13, 2019 / Project number: 18-0450
By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
Quebec City, Quebec — Signals Officer Captain Pierre Frenette and several of his colleagues from the Canadian Army (CA)’s 35 Canadian Brigade Group (35 CBG), a Quebec-based Reserve formation, found themselves with a bit of extra time to think in the summer of 2013.
They had deployed to the CA’s Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay, Nunavut and were expecting to be flown out on August 16. Thanks to a bad turn in the weather however, their ride home would be delayed by five days.
They began to consider ways to ensure troops in similar situations might be able to keep essential battery-powered communications systems working indefinitely when supply channels for generator fuel are cut off.
“This is how we started the reflection on how we could become as autonomous as possible,” Capt Frenette explained. “Up North there are places where there is sunlight 24 hours a day but there’s also times of the year when there’s none. So the sun is probably the primary source of energy but the wind up north is a significant backup – it is very sustained due to the fact that there are no trees or buildings.”
Five years and countless hours of work on their own time later, Capt Frenette (who was recently posted out of 35 CBG) and company have been rewarded with $1 million to further develop their concept: the Renewable Autonomous, and Modular Energy System (RAMES).
The funds come courtesy of the Defence Team Innovation Challenge (DTIC). DTIC is an offshoot of Blueprint 2020, a federal government program created to encourage innovation in the public sector.
In May of 2018, the Department of National Defence (DND) issued a call for proposals and narrowed nearly 200 entries down to 10 finalists who faced off in a Dragons Den-style challenge on November 30, 2018 at the DND headquarters in Ottawa.
The panel of judges included DND officials including Isabelle Desmartis, Assistant Deputy Minister (Science and Technology), and Commander Simon Page, Assistant Chief of Military Personnel, as well as Aaron Snow, CEO of Canadian Digital Service (CDS). CDS is a government agency established to assist departments in building and deploying digital services.
The 35 CBG team came out on top and will receive $1 million over the next two years to further develop the idea. They will receive $770,000 in 2019, and the remainder the next year.
The project consists of flexible, wearable solar panels allowing individual soldiers to store power to keep equipment charged. The package also includes a suitcase-sized unit, and trailers equipped with both solar panels and wind turbines that can be towed by all-terrain vehicles and are capable of powering a company, which consists of more than 100 troops.
In addition to these, they will procure a container system capable of sustaining an entire Brigade Group headquarters. Military work at that scale will need fuel sooner or later, Capt Frenette explained, but RAMES can reduce fuel consumption by up to half, which would also be invaluable should the resupply chain be interrupted.
Capt Frenette noted that similar technology is already on the market. Still, the 35 CBG team has taken it one step beyond by making it portable and more rugged and able to be successfully employed in various weather conditions.
“We used what’s available on the market and we created what was not available,” he said, crediting Sergeant Dominic Thomassin with much of the engineering work required.
The ultimate hope, Capt Frenette added, is that RAMES will eventually be adopted across the Army and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole. Mass production will require private sector partners, he added, but the team is confident that RAMES is very close to ready.
“The proof of concept and the proof of deployment have been tested more than once.”
This year was DND’s first-ever DTIC, and likely will not be the last, noted Teresa Hebb, who served as a project advisor. Ms. Hebb is a senior program support specialist in the Digital Innovation section in the office of the Assistant Deputy Minister (Data, Innovation and Analytics) in Ottawa.
“We had a symposium in 2017 where we engaged employees from across Canada and said, ‘What do you feel you need to make changes to? What do you feel you need to address in your workplace?’
“It can sometimes be challenging at any level within the department to actually get an idea moved forward,” she added. “So we actually went to Health Canada, who had done a similar event. And we thought, let’s see if we can apply that within our culture. So it’s the first time we’re doing it within Defence and it’s built up some great momentum.”
Any questions about future innovation within Defence, or which DND organizations have innovation mandates and teams, please contact +Blueprint2020 – Objective2020 or email Darlene.Sabadoz@forces.gc.ca
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