DOD awards West Point $925K to pilot advanced energy security, resilience system

By Maj. Renee Sanjuan USMA Associate Dean for Policy and Communications - July 27, 2022
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The U.S. Military Academy is leading the way toward meeting the Army’s goal to strengthen water and energy resilience on its installations.

  Over the last few years, an interdisciplinary environmental research team led by Lt. Col. Andrew (Andy) Pfluger, academy professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering (GENE), has been working to advance energy resilience at West Point through a system that converts waste generated and collected at its Target Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant into energy, using a technology called anaerobic co-digestion. 

For their work, the DOD Environmental Security Technology Certification Program has awarded the team a $925,000 competitive award over three years.

“We are incredibly excited for the opportunity to study the anaerobic co-digestion system that will be constructed at West Point,” Pfluger, principal researcher, said. “Results from our examination should help DOD better understand if this technology is viable for all installations and useful for advancing energy security and resilience goals. This study could only be conducted at West Point — here we have the unique combination of infrastructure, technology and intellectual capital to make it happen.”

Brig. Gen. Shane Reeves, West Point’s Dean of the Academic Board, noted the researchʼs impact on the academy and the Army. 

“The team Andy put together for this work was vital to the proposalʼs success and sending the broader message that USMA is an intellectual engine for the Army,” Reeves said.

The team includes faculty members from the departments of GENE, Chemistry and Life Science, and Civil and Mechanical Engineering, as well as scientists with the Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Risk and Decision Team.

  Over the past two-and-a-half years, 11 cadets have worked on various aspects of the system. The data generated from their studies have helped USMA Garrison and American Water make intelligent decisions regarding the implementation of the system. 

More opportunities for cadets from several disciplines to study construction, implementation, characterizations and improvements to the West Point anaerobic co-digestion technology are expected in the next three years or more.

  2nd Lt. Ian Morris, USMA Class of 2022, explained how the research has enhanced his research opportunities and academic enrichment. 

“More than just the subject of my first research experience, the topic of anaerobic bioremediation has grown my interest in my major and broadened my perspective on the power of so-called ‘waste’,” Morris, an Environmental Engineering major, said. Morris added that his work on the project motivated him to further his studies in graduate school at Stanford University.

As of summer 2023, West Point will house the only full-scale anaerobic co-digester for treatment of organic wastes and energy generation on a DOD installation. 

Their forward-thinking technology, coupled with the renowned intellectual capital provided by West Point faculty and cadets, in conjunction with ERDC partners, creates the unique opportunity to advance the Army’s energy security and installation resilience efforts. In short, West Point is combining unique technology and world-class intellectual capital to achieve Army objectives. 

Interested in partnering with West Point? The Academic Research Division (ARD) helps coordinate West Point’s research efforts with external entities. Learn more at https://bit.ly/WP_ARD.