By HM2 Joshua Cranford
Beginning fiscal year 2017 the United States Naval Academy (USNA) will be starting research into partially premixed diesel fuel as a measure to ensure the Navy’s energy security. They’ll do this with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as a direct result of a pitch that I made. Did I mention I’m a Second Class Petty Officer; who serves as a Dental Technician?
Empathizing with the reader taking this information in let me answer the obvious question- Yes, reality is stranger than fiction. Had I worked for a company like Google or Facebook and suggested an app for the company to produce, it would be very easy to digest one of these titans of innovations running with an idea from any source; but the Navy? One of the largest bureaucracies in the world listening to a… Dental Tech… on macroeconomic energy trends? The Navy has something Google and Facebook don’t though, and that’s ATHENA. And well, you know, a slightly over-zealous Dental Tech. Having said all that just know this isn’t a politically correct puff piece; just for the record- the Navy doesn’t pay E-5’s enough to write those.
A NAVADMIN was released in December of 2015 calling for sailors with a “High Risk, High Reward” idea to submit an application to the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). I read about this and submitted 18 pages of “this is so obscure, it might work” and associated documents on how to integrate hydrogen use into the fleet as a viable substitute for fossil fuels. Long story short my proposal on how to allocate $1.3 million for a proof of concept for Project Water Engine (PWE) fell by the way of congress defunding the CRIC- I wrote angry letters to both of my senators and my congressmen; but I digress.
A few weeks later I got an email from the CRIC coordinator informing me about ATHENA DC 1.0 taking place at the Sea Air and Space Symposium in just over a month. I sent off my white paper on PWE to ATHENA with all the enthusiasm an individual typical has when purchasing lottery tickets. Yeah I was ready for a win, but I wasn’t expecting my number to come up… I won the preverbal lottery.
Immediately after ATHENA informed me I would be pitching, I got an email from the good people at ONR asking if I needed help refining my five-minute pitch. Well I looked up who I would be pitching to (a three-star admiral, and three other individuals with a collective IQ around 550ish), had a momentary panic attack, and then humbly accepted the offer for help. The three individuals I meet with at ONR took the weighty tomb of my novel idea and made it sound intelligible enough for a meaningful five-minute pitch.
Sea Air and Space came and if memory serves correctly, I was the fifth best pitch of five presenters. Measuring success is tricky business though. The conversation on PWE continued long after my five-minute public forum was concluded. The conversation also led me to being connected with the Naval Innovation Network; a group of driven individuals who don’t need to be told “it’s their Navy”; they already know.
After the pitch I guess is when you could say the real work started. I received an email from ONR again. While confidence in a project that called for gasoline-hydrogen-hybrids was thin, I was informed that there could be a funding possibility. ONR had money to spend but it needed to come from the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence (NEPTUNE) initiative; AKA alternatives energy research that goes through a college capstone/ research project. I had some work to do to align interests on PWE. I took to the Naval Innovation Network and tracked down some individuals at the Naval Academy. After some real champions of innovations pointed me in the right direction I found the Mechanical Engineering Department.
From the start I wanted to prove that Hydrogen could be used as a cheap/ sustainable supplemental/ primary fuel in internal combustion engines; specifically, with gasoline. Fast forward a few months and a professor in the MECH ENG DEPT asks me the question “why not diesel, it’s the Navy’s favorite fuel source”. There’s more though- there was a concept floating around academia about pre-mixing hydrogen with diesel fuel. I looked at PWE and this concept of partially premixed diesel fuel fit like a glove.
So I had a few building blocks to work with: my idea, a college wanting to explore a new concept very similar to my idea, and funding for a college to explore my idea. Well ONR was very receptive to partially premixed diesel fuel and the Academy was very receptive to the idea of getting funding for a research project.
So if you’re considering submitting your idea to ATHENA for the opportunity to pitch remember three things:
- Never accept a “no” from someone who’s not authorized to say yes.
- A dental tech is influencing alternative energy research in the Navy.
- This one is from MCPON (ret) Stevens and couldn’t apply more- Build on small successes, and stay positive!
HOWEVER, I hope it’s been noted that ATHENA never directly supported my “Innovation”. ATHENA supported me- the innovator. It was on me to align interests and exploit the Naval Innovation Network that I was connected with to promote my innovation. ATHENA provided me an opportunity to present my idea. More than that- ATHENA gave me the opportunity to create opportunity.
-Go Navy, Beat EVERYONE!
“Joshua Cranford is currently assigned to Naval Health Clinic Annapolis as a the Dental department ALPO and is currently pursuing a degree in mathematics.”