US military leads drive toward renewable energy future

“Energy Security needs to be one of the first things we think about, before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane, and before we buy or fill another rucksack”

– Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen

The US military wants to be free of dependence upon fossil fuels, especially from those imported from the world’s trouble spots. The US Navy is committed to having 50% of all its fuel from alternative non-fossil fuels sources by 2020, says Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. This is substantially more than California’s goal of 33% by the same date. The Air Force is testing soybean-based biofuel in Strike Eagle fighters. The Army and EPA are collaborating on a “Net Zero” initiative to reduce water and energy use while increasing recycling. You can find all this and more on the Department of Defense DOD Goes Green website. It’s filled with information on how the Pentagon is working towards reducing energy and fuel use, creating biofuels, and using solar, wind, and fuel cells in the field.

They aren’t doing this because they want to hug trees and serve organic granola to the troops. They see energy independence as a critical mission which will save lives along with saving money. In fiscal year 2007, there was one casualty for every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan. The less fuel used the better, especially since the transported cost of fossil fuels can reach $1,000 a gallon in war zones. Electricity generation in combat also has traditionally required fossil fuels. So, they’re now using solar power backpack kits, solar in shipping containers, and highly portable combined solar and wind generators. Their goal is to always have energy and fuel available and ready when needed.

The Holy Grail of renewable energy is biofuel at a cost-competitive price. We aren’t there yet. Congress has rightfully just eliminated the subsidies on corn-based biofuel, which drives up food prices by making less acreage available to grow food. But biofuel can also be made from agricultural and packing plant leftovers, crops grown on non-agricultural land, and algae. Preliminary tests show that algae biofuel can produce vastly more fuel per acre than any other type of biofuel. This could be the future.

The concern of the Pentagon is that we won’t have an energy future if we keep relying upon fossil fuels imported from elsewhere. The Strait of Hormuz is in the news again as Iran threatens to blockade it if the US imposes further sanctions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to care about crude oil shipments through the Strait because we produced all our fuel at home? That’s what the military wants to do. The South China Sea, the melting Arctic, and the Caspian Sea Basin are also potential flash-points as they contain large deposits of as-yet untapped oil.

The huge resources and money available to the US military may well mean that it leads the country to energy independence. Let’s hope so.

(crossposted from IVN)