When you consider that the US Department of Defense currently spends $15 billion each year on energy, it is perhaps no surprise that it is attempting to move away from its current dependence on foreign oil towards a more self-sufficient, energy efficient future.
By placing a greater emphasis on renewable and clean fuels, the Department of Defense believes that America’s fighting forces will become even more efficient and less reliant on foreign oil.
At right: A US Air Force B1-B Lancer bomber aircraft approaches a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft for an aerial refueling over Afghanistan April 9, 2012.US Air Force
As Ray Mabus, US Navy Secretary, says, “Energy reform will make us better fighters. In the end, it is a matter of energy independence and it is a matter of national security. Our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum makes us vulnerable in too many ways.”
You only need to look at the number of American soldiers and contractors killed in attacks relating to fuel delivery to see just how pressing the need is for a more energy efficient military. Between 2003 and 2007, more than 3,000 soldiers and contractors have fallen victim to deadly attacks. That makes the case for energy reform within the Department of Defense pretty clear.
Currently, both the Navy and Air Force are experimenting with a more efficient biofuel alternative that is based on algae and camelina. The signs so far have been pretty positive, as studies have shown that by using this biofuel, net carbon emissions from planes have been reducing by nearly 80 percent.
It is still too early to get too excited by this news however, as biofuel production is currently nowhere near the capacity it will need to reach to be able to meet the energy demands of the American fighting forces. Just look at the energy demands of the US Navy. While the Navy currently uses less than 300,000 gallons of biofuel, by 2020 the Navy estimates that its annual biofuel need will be a momentous 336 million gallons. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done.
However, you can’t deny that there is a will when it comes to moving towards a more energy efficient future. The Air Force has already stated that it wants biofuels to cover half of its domestic aviation fuel needs by 2016, and the Navy plans to reach this 50 percent target by 2020.
Making simple efficiency improvements is one way that the US military can significantly reduce its energy consumption. For example, by deciding to insulate 9 million square feet of temporary structures, the Department of Defense achieved fuel savings of over 77,000 gallons. Steps are also being taken to make greater use of electronic vehicles in the military field, something that will have a huge effect on the amount of fuel being consumed by the military.
The DoD’s collaborative efforts with private sector industries in the development of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass initiatives will not only help to make the military a more energy efficient machine, it will also help to boost these industries domestically. Last year, solar power provider SolarCity were given a $334 million loan that will, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, enable them to provide “up to 160,000 rooftop solar installations on top of privately run military housing complexes at 124 military bases across 34 states.”
Working towards a more fuel efficient military, with a focus on renewable energies such as solar energy and wind power, will not only help to reduce the carbon footprint of the US military, it will also help to reduce energy costs in a safe and responsible way.