updated 3/14/2011 2:10:34 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:10:34

WASHINGTON — U.S. Marines engaged in heavy combat around the town of Sangin, Afghanistan, somehow were able to pioneer the use of alternative power sources on the go. Foot patrols of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment even lightened their load in the process, ditching 700 pounds of batteries and using roll-up solar panels.

But much of the green energy the Marines are now producing from renewable sources goes to waste because they don't have batteries with enough storage capacity. Possible solutions may stem from a request that Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus  announced during his keynote speech today (March 2) at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit here: a request for $50 million to fund a pair of energy-storage  projects.

"What we don't have, and what we need, is the ability to store the energy we create," Mabus said.

The Department of Defense has teamed up with Department of Energy's ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) on two energy storage projects that could change that scenario for the U.S. military, according to Mabus. The joint partnership is requesting $25 million for each of the efforts.

One project aims to create hybrid energy-storage modules. Such modules would represent the future of batteries, using lightweight materials capable of storing high amounts of energy. Ideally they could be combined with one another to suit the energy needs of Marine bases and Navy ships alike, Mabus said.

"A lot of energy that Marines are generating in Sangin is going to waste," Mabus explained."With this hybrid storage module, we're able to store that energy for use at almost any time."

A second project would try to improve energy storage in military power grids, with a focus on boosting energy reliability and preventing any unwanted disruptions of the energy supply.

The Navy has already set the goal of getting half its bases to zero energy consumption by 2020, and perhaps even returning power to the grid rather than pulling power off, by using renewable energy sources.

"We're not just changing for change sake," Mabus told summit attendees. "Everything we're doing is to make us better fighters."

Energy storage has proven a necessity on the battlefield. Whereas a Marine platoon took just two or three radios on patrol during the Vietnam War, a similar platoon in Afghanistan takes 30 to 50 radios. Similarly, new weapons such as the Navy's rail gun require huge amounts of electricity drawn from military power grids or portable energy-storage systems.

The $25 million going to each new project is about the cost of a single H-1 "Huey" helicopter, Mabus pointed out.

"The change that the $25 million can generate can multiply that one helicopter hundreds and thousands of times," he said.

Jeremy Hsu is a senior writer for InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily.

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