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At Pentagon, Earth Day Goes High Tech

New technologies could protect soldiers, environment.

Whether it happens in battle overseas or in daily commutes in Arlington, starting an automobile is dangerous. Enemy surveillance is more likely to detect heat and noise from a running engine. At home, the risks of a running engine are less immediate?car emissions pollute the air and threaten to hurt quality of life over time.

At the Pentagon this week, a program in honor of Earth Day focused on fuel cells, which may reduce both those risks soon.

?We have a history of doing this in the Department of Defense,? said Dennis Wend, executive director of the U.S. Army?s National Automotive Center. By investing in research and development of new technologies, the military is helping speed production of products that will benefit everyone, he said.

Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity, like a battery. But unlike a battery, fuel cells can be refilled with the raw materials and continue functioning indefinitely. Monday, officials demonstrated a fuel cell prototype that can power the equipment on a military command vehicle for up to six hours on a 3.5-gallon tank.

But fuel cells aren?t just promising military technology. Fuel cells produce essentially just one waste product ? water. So private industries are looking at ways to use the technology in cars for the general public.

?We are going to have fuel cell vehicles on the road by the end of this decade,? said Michael Morrissey, a spokesperson for General Motors Corporation. Morrissey displayed one of GM?s fuel cell vehicles, the Hy-Wire, which he said represents major progress. ?This drives every bit like a luxury sedan,? he said.

GM representatives will return to the Washington region next month to demonstrate fuel cell minivans, which could also be ready for mass production by the end of the decade.

OTHER DISPLAYS Monday focused on technology and practices that can help the DoD and private citizens take better care of the environment now.

A 2002 act of Congress laid the framework for more research into ?bio-based? industrial products, made from soy and other agricultural products rather than fossil fuels or synthetic materials. Even before fuel cell technology becomes available, bio-based technology is making cleaner-burning diesel fuel a reality. New bio-diesel stations will come to the Arlington area soon.

Sharyn Lie from the United Soybean Board said several new soy-based building supplies including roof coating are becoming more accessible. ?It?s exciting to see them in a lot of specialty line products,? she said.

Still, more work lies ahead if bio-based products are to catch on. ?It would be great if eventually you would see it in the grocery store too,? she said.

Even older technologies depend on getting the word out to consumers, said Joan LaRock of the Independent Lighting Corporation. The newest fluorescent energy-saving bulbs have been on the market for two years, yet many consumers aren?t aware of how much energy the new technology saves.

LaRock demonstrated bulbs her company sold to the Pentagon last year that produce more light on 70 percent less energy compared with incandescent bulbs. Pentagon staff jumped at the chance to reduce energy consumption. ?The people here at the Pentagon were amazingly sophisticated,? she said.

RECYCLING PROVED a hot topic as well, locally and internationally. Bruce Buchan, president of the Ontario-based Midpoint International, Inc., donated new recycling bins that he said improve efficiency and decrease waste.

By making receptacles more visually appealing and easier to set up, organizations could get their employees to participate in recycling efforts more often, Buchan said. ?If they look good, people stop and pay attention.?

Those kinds of efforts need to be applied more often in the workplace, said Scott MacDonald, Arlington County?s waste reduction program manager. Curbside pickups are helping reduce waste at home, but that?s not enough.

?I want employees to have programs available in the workplace,? said MacDonald. It?s important to have recycling available where waste is created, and that means not just at home. The Pentagon in particular is a major focus for waste reduction plans.

?It makes a lot of waste, and hopefully a lot of recycling,? said MacDonald.