National Security Demands Energy Innovation

Publication: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Author: Phyllis Cuttino


11/30/2011 - The U.S. military is weaning itself from fossil fuels, reports energy expert

Militaries have long used energy innovations to improve their operational capabilities. Today, the U.S. military is prioritizing energy efficiency and new technology to save lives and money, with help from leading companies in Western Pennsylvania.

Energy innovation is central to the evolution of military preparedness. The Navy once relied on wind power, transitioned to coal and eventually adopted nuclear power to propel fleets across the seas. The Air Force harnessed jet propulsion to gain superiority in the skies. Today's energy realities require efficiency and alternative sources to be priorities for our armed forces.

The experience of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has forced the Defense Department to rethink its energy strategy, with special emphasis on reducing battlefield fuel demand and securing reliable, renewable energy supplies for combat operations.

The department's drive to harness clean energy reflects an understanding that overreliance on oil puts American soldiers at mortal risk and the Pentagon budget at the whim of volatile world oil markets.

On today's battlefield, it takes 22 gallons of fuel per service member per day to support combat operations, a 175 percent increase over the Vietnam War era. Transporting fuel puts U.S. forces at risk: 80 percent of the shipments into Iraq and Afghanistan consist of fuel, and one in 46 convoys is attacked. From 2003 to 2007, more than 3,000 soldiers and civilian contractors were killed or injured in attacks on such supply lines. The Pentagon also faces soaring energy costs, where every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil equals a $1.3 billion increase in its energy bill.

To address these challenges, the Defense Department has set a goal of acquiring 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 and has committed to vehicle and building efficiency, alternative fuels and clean-energy technologies.

To enhance transportation operations, the military is deploying electric vehicles and increasing research to put more efficient engines in its ships, planes and ground transport. By 2016, the Navy plans to deploy a Great Green Fleet -- a carrier strike group of both ships and aircraft that is powered with biofuels. The Air Force, the Pentagon's largest consumer of jet fuel, plans to acquire 50 percent of its fuel from bio-sources within five years. The Army and Marines are deploying portable solar power packs that support critically needed electronic systems and allow troops to shed heavy batteries. The Defense Department also is making buildings more efficient and is using renewables to meet energy needs on military bases.

In all of these efforts, the department is working closely with the private sector to harness emerging energy innovations, including those associated with businesses and jobs in Western Pennsylvania.

For example, Alcoa has joined with the department to develop lighter, safer and more efficient vehicles and aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Axion Power International in New Castle is helping the military produce longer-lasting, lightweight batteries and other advanced energy-storage products.

These efforts complement other government actions to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, including the Obama administration's recent proposal to increase auto fuel-efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg for model years 2017-25.

The Department of Defense is employing these technologies to reduce risks to soldiers and improve combat operations. But the energy innovation needs of our soldiers and military also are helping to create incentives for American ingenuity, markets for American products and jobs for American workers -- demonstrating that clean energy simultaneously enhances our economic, environmental and national security future.

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To view the full op-ed, visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.

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