FIU, Military Create Instant Clinics

FIU, Military Create Instant Clinics
April 24th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: FIU, Military Create Instant Clinics

FIU, Military Create Instant Clinics
Miami Herald
April 24, 2008
Pg. 1
By Oscar Corral
Imagine a team of doctors, soldiers or humanitarians airlifted into a remote jungle many miles from the nearest road or power grid. Within 24 hours, a fully functioning, fully powered medical clinic rises from the jungle floor.
Researchers from Florida International University are working with U.S. military planners to develop a makeshift mobile hospital that runs completely on solar power, can purify or desalinate up to 400 gallons of water per day and can treat dozens of people who consider electricity a luxury.
The project began a test run two weeks ago in the Honduran jungle.
If successful, the self-sustaining tentlike structure could become a model for the U.S. military and American emergency response teams to set up field operations in remote locations.
FIU, already nationally recognized for its creative use of solar power technology, announced last month that it had received a $2.4 million grant to pursue the project with the Army.
The idea of ''mobile medical readiness'' was born at FIU's Applied Research Center as part of the school's role in the Western Hemisphere Information Exchange Program.
That program, known as WHIX, is a joint effort between the U.S. military and the militaries of other Latin American countries ''to develop a sustainable program that addresses key strategic issues in environment and renewable energy,'' according to an FIU brochure.
FIU and the military want to send mobile medical centers to remote villages in Central America to test their ruggedness and effectiveness.
If the tests go smoothly, the military may adopt the system for use worldwide in remote locations where liquid fuel supplies are difficult to transport.
The transportable hospitals can also be powered using wind and micro-hydro turbines from running water, or even biofuels harvested from surrounding vegetation.
''The research really is about looking at those things that are available, and doing a military assesment in the field to see how they stand up under pressure,'' said Jerry F. Miller, associate director of military programs for the Applied Research Center. "What the local communities get out of this is access to advanced medical treatment.''
From a distance, the hospital resembles the tents used by the Korean War-era doctors in the 1970s movie and television show M*A*S*H*, which stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals.
A simple rectangular tent set up outdoors, it covers an area about the size of a volleyball court but can grow.
Thin film
But unlike the hospitals in the popular TV series, which ran on liquid fossil fuels, the plastic roof in FIU's circa-2008 MASH unit is covered with thin-film sheets of photovoltaic solar cells.
They are the thickness of two credit cards and can be rolled up and curved over almost any surface to produce electricity from sunlight, Miller said.
The energy from the cells feeds a battery system that keeps the power running day and night.
''This is the most cost competitive way to go for this application,'' said Bob Reedy, director of the Solar Energy Division for the Florida Solar Energy Center. `
Rugged material
"Thin films can be flexible, so they can be put on a canopy. They are also very light, and they are very rugged, unlike glass, or rigid modules. They can take some damage and actually can even take a bullet hole. They can take a licking and keep on ticking.''
Each thin-film strip produces 1.5 kilowatts of electricity, or about the amount required to power a radio, a computer and some lights.
The canopy, set up at FIU's Engineering campus at Flagler Street and Northwest 107th Avenue, recently had three strips, producing 4.5 kilowatts.
To compare, a four-kilowatt system is enough to power the average American home; South Florida homes, because of energy-intensive air conditioning, require six-kilowatt systems, said George Douglas, a spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The military typically burns diesel fuel to power generators for electricity, Miller said, although some renewable energy technology is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The solar panels produce no sound or other emissions and can be rolled up and shipped anywhere.
The price of the thin-film panels is still high because the technology is so new, but
their potential is vast.
The cost of manufacturing them can be lower than regular panels, because they use only a fraction of the natural resources, such as silicon. But so far, most thin films are not as efficient as regular solar panels.
Dissenting note
Not everyone is a fan of thin film technology.
''Some people call them unbreakable; we call them already broken,'' said John Kimble, owner of Sun Electronics in Miami, which does not carry thin film panels.
"Anything that's flexible will disintegrate under the sun.''
FIU engineers have developed water-filtration and desalinization systems powered from solar and wind energy.
Rural villages would be able to power computers and communications devices with them.
''These technologies can not only bring basic power, but can foster business diversification, growth and added opportunities -- which in turn leads to less urban migration,'' said Carmen Algeciras, Director of the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Programat FIU.
"Above all else, they are environmentally sound.''
Miami city hall
Solar panels are already being put to everyday use in Miami.
The most high-profile project so far is the solar panel installation project at Miami City Hall, championed by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. Diaz says the panels -- which are rigid and permanently installed -- and other energy efficiency steps will cut the electric bill at City Hall by $9,000 a year.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, visited FIU's engineering department for a ceremony to present a $2.4 million check in public money to FIU for research and development for the mobile medical unit project.
''We build a better future for these communities,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. "It's for the benefit of the U.S. to do these programs.''

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