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 November 2006 

Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.Defense Leading the Way in Energy Savings

November 2006

By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.

Our enormous national appetite for energy at last has emerged as a national security issue. The Pentagon, fortunately, is now assuming a leadership role in areas spanning energy-saving technologies and alternative fuels.

While the Defense Department -- which accounts for about 1 percent of the nation's fuel expenditures -- alone cannot drive market forces, it is in fact the single largest consumer of petroleum fuels in the United States. Therefore, it is appropriate it takes the lead in energy-related initiatives and explores innovative technologies that could eventually transition to civilian society.

While it's not a glamorous subject, energy is critical to success on the battlefield, notes Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. "The Air Force alone sees a $600 million increase in the annual cost of doing business for every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil," he points out. Although the majority of energy consumption in the Defense Department is for transportation, installation energy requirements also must be considered.

John Young, director of defense research and engineering, and Philip Grone, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, highlighted several key elements of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the department's fossil fuel requirements. They are co-chairs of Department of Defense Energy Security Task Force, which was established by the secretary of defense in April 2006.

According to its preliminary findings, the task force estimates that the military services have already made significant advances in energy efficiency and have reduced energy consumption during the past several decades. While the department currently relies on renewable sources for 9 percent of its electricity, its stated goal is to have 25 percent of its electricity fueled by renewable sources by 2025.

Young also identifies a number of research and engineering efforts to improve the energy efficiency of tactical vehicles and weapons platforms. Energy for mobility -- to power aircraft, ships and vehicles -- accounts for 74 percent of the department's total energy usage.

Michael Aimone, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support, says the Air Force intends to have at least 50 percent of aviation fuel derived from domestic supplies by 2016. To that end, he cites the recent successful test of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber using synthetic fuel.

The test was conducted using a 50/50 blend of crude oil refined jet fuel and a synthetically manufactured product. "To date, the aircraft has flown over six hours, and combined with over 50 hours of engine tests on the ground, we have not seen any deleterious effects on the engine, fuel system, or in the ground support equipment," says Aimone.

The Air Force also has requested the assistance of the defense energy support center, a Defense Logistics Agency field activity, in surveying industry to identify market conditions needed to produce 100 million gallons of synthetic jet fuel beginning in 2009. Richard Connelly, director of DESC, notes that 28 firms responded to the DESC solicitation.

Besides trying to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, the military has other compelling reasons to reduce its reliance on traditional fuels. In late July, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the commander of U.S. forces in the al-Anbar province of Iraq, sent an urgent request to the Defense Department, asking for renewable energy systems to help reduce the demand for ground transportation convoys.

In response, the Army Rapid Equipping Force is evaluating industry proposals to build and ship to Iraq renewable-energy power stations that would use a combination of solar and wind technologies.

By reducing the need for petroleum-based fuels, Zilmer writes, "We can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our Marines, soldiers and sailors."

The good news is that the military services already are way ahead of other sectors of the economy in the use of green energy. The Air Force is one of this nation's largest buyers of green power, says energy consultant Scott Sklar of The Stella Group Ltd. Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Fort Bragg, N.C., employ solar and wind technologies to power buildings. China Lake, Calif., has invested in a portfolio of energy efficiency and renewable energy applications.

But for the Defense Department to have more impact as a national leader in the energy area, explains Sklar, it needs to do a better job disseminating information and gaining access to the technologies already available in the marketplace.

Zilmer's request for renewable energy sources could be met by any number of existing electric generation units powered by solar and wind, as well as fuel cells, advanced battery banks, small wind and thin film photovoltaics.

Facilities that create energy from waste already are a booming industry. One company already has an operating location which takes almost any kind of organic waste and converts it to a liquid fuel. The chairman of the NDIA Energy Security Committee recently visited this facility and can attest that it works.

The Air Force experiment with alternative fuels on a B-52 and a battlefield commander's call for alternative energy are just the opening shots in what promises to be a major research thrust for the Pentagon, the Department of Energy and the business sector.

Many of these issues will be explored further at an NDIA environmental conference scheduled for this spring in Columbus, Ohio. A significant portion of the conference will be devoted to energy issues. For additional information, please visit our Web site.

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