Reimagining Energy for the DoD Kicks Off with a Virtual Challenge Definition Workshop

Reimagining Energy for the DoD Kicks Off with a Virtual Challenge Definition Workshop


In mid-August, AFWERX, the U.S. Air Force's innovation catalyst, hosted a virtual, collaborative design workshop for its newest innovation challenge: Reimagining Energy for the Department of Defense (DoD). A Challenge Definition Workshop (CDW) like this typically takes place in-person over two days. However, amid the current global health crisis, AFWERX, in partnership with theDifference facilitation team, has made a sharp, successful pivot to virtual convenings.


The workshop objective is to gather the right people from industry, military, and academia to define the problem and understand the components needed to solve it. With a focal point on energy, the most critical enabler of the United States' combat capability, the three-day workshop brought together over 250 military and civilian participants. Collectively, they brainstormed the future of energy and how to create a sustainable energy infrastructure.


As the challenge name alludes, the DoD is currently the largest energy consumer globally, both operationally – training, moving, and sustaining the armed forces – and powering, heating, and cooling its installations. By reducing demand and reliance on petroleum and modernizing the energy infrastructure, the force can improve energy security, increase sustainability, and remain adaptable to the future and impacts of climate change.


Heading up this challenge adjacent to AFWERX is AFWIC, the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability. The AFWIC organization was created by Secretary Wilson and General Goldfein in 2017 to look across the Air Force's diverse warfighting portfolio and drive enterprise-wide solutions to complex issues. AFWIC develops and refines concepts to ensure the Air and Space Forces can fight effectively in the future.


During the CDW, AFWIC military experts joined AFWERX via Zoom video conferencing alongside researchers from top universities across the country, Air Force personnel, allied agencies, and industry experts. From aviation specialists to venture capitalists, there was diversified representation across the board. Utilizing virtual whiteboard technology and interactive polling, participants collaborated on various facilitated and scribed exercises. 


The first day centered around breakout sessions to brainstorm potential solutions to several scenarios based on the following critical focus areas: sourcing, generating, storing and conditioning, transporting and distributing, and using other forms of DoD identified energy, beyond petroleum. On the second day, the discussions deepened with sixteen different themes ranging from real technological concerns like sustaining battery life and moving energy efficiently, to more unconventional ideas involving non-petroleum energy sources. Ultimately, the workshop wrapped on day three with engaging conversations that integrated the previous days' talks and culminated in a workable output to finalize the challenge definition statement.


With the energizing insights gained from the workshop, AFWERX is preparing to launch the Reimagining Energy for the DoD Challenge, which encompasses six specific challenge topics into the crowdsourcing phase. The open call for innovative solutions to solve part or all of the DoD's energy concerns will go live on August 28th. The submission window will remain open for six weeks. Check back soon for the full challenge overview, which will be available at afwerxchallenge.com in the upcoming days.