US Military Spending on Clean Energy Explodes
An F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter, dubbed the Green Hornet, flew with a blend of biofuel and traditional fuel.
CREDIT: U.S. Navy photo by Liz Goettee
A decade of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has opened the U.S. military's eyes to how clean energy can save that most precious of resources: the lives of its men and women. Better batteries and solar power technologies have helped soldiers and Marines lighten their loads and focus on more meaningful missions than risking their lives guarding fuel convoys.
It's part of a much broader effort by the U.S. military to combat rising energy costs, according to a new report from the Pew Environment Group. But a huge challenge remains, given that the Department of Defense's energy consumption alone tops all but 35 countries at 375,000 barrels of oil per day. The military also remains the single biggest U.S. consumer of energy.
Such reliance on fossil fuels and changing oil prices forced the military to spend $17.9 billion in 2008 more than double the cost for almost the same amount of fuel purchased in 2005. As a counterattack, the military aims to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by 2025.
Clean energy spending by the military rose from $400 million to $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2009, and is projected to soar beyond $10 billion annually by 2030.
Some of the biggest savings could come from cutting down on fuel consumption by military aircraft and helicopters . The Air Force has targeted using aviation fuels other than oil for 50 percent of its domestic needs by 2016. About 99 percent of its aviation fleet has been cleared to fly on a 50-50 blend of regular and alternative fuels.
The Navy wants its aviators to spend more time in flight-training simulators rather than burning fuel in real jets, but its energy-saving ambitions go beyond that. It plans to debut a carrier strike group, called the "Great Green Fleet," powered solely by alternative fuels in 2012, and conduct a lengthy mission in 2016. It expects to use 50 percent alternative fuels for all its ships, jets and helicopters by 2020.
That vision of the future includes hybrid-electric ships that resemble the Toyota Prius of the seas. But even simple measures such as installing stern flaps to reduce drag on its ships have created annual fuel savings of up to $450,000 per ship.
The Marines share the Navy's 50 percent alternative energy goal for its vehicles by 2020, driven by the knowledge that a Marine is killed or wounded for every 50 convoys of gasoline delivered safely. Such energy-saving efforts also extend to the fighters on foot one Marine company used portable solar panels to replace 700 pounds of batteries needed every day to power their radios and GPS devices in Afghanistan.
More efficient, lighter and longer-lasting batteries may similarly help soldiers who each carry seven or more pounds of batteries each day for missions. The Army also wants to boost non-petroleum fuel use by 10 percent each year in non-battlefield vehicles. That may sound small compared to other goals. But in a huge military organization, anything helps.