Archive for December, 2010

The Lean Green Fighting Machine

December 31, 2010

In October, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment’s Company I moved into position in the Hemaland Province in Afghanistan. This was a fairly typical forward deployment—except for the fact that this particular base was completely powered by renewable energy. This is in stark contrast to the usual base, which relies upon thousands of gallons of gasoline, which are in turn transported in at massive risk. In fact, one person dies for each 24 transport convoys.

In great measure to eliminate the vulnerabilities of fossil fuel, the military is attempting to implement renewable and sustainable energy into its operations. The most prominent example of this is the experimental forward operating base (Ex-FOB) in Hemaland. It features portable solar panels, energy efficient lighting, solar driven chargers for various equipment and solar tent shields.

The deployment of the Ex-FOB into combat conditions is one component of a broader effort called GREENS—Ground Renewable, Expeditionary Energy Systems. The general idea is to lessen the reliance of the Marines on fossil fuels—not just the fuel itself, but the effort and cost associated with transporting it. For example, one concern is that the generator capacity the Marines need for a given mission will someday not be able to fit on the navy ship which is supposed to transport it.

Speaking of the Navy, it has also implemented some initiatives in this area. Last year, it launched its first hybrid vessel (analogous in concept to the Prius). They reported a savings of nearly 1 million gallons of fuel on its maiden voyage alone. The Navy actually accepted its first shipment of fuel made from algae earlier this year.

Not to be left behind is the Air Force, (USAF) the largest user of fuel amongst the military services. It plans to replace about 15% of its total fuel needs (2.4 billion gallons annually) with alternative fuels. By 2016, this will result in 400 million gallons of jet fuel saved. This year, the Air Force carried out 2 successful test flights powered by a combination of jet fuel and bio-fuel. In March, an A-10 Thunderbolt flew on a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and oils extracted from camelina seeds. In October, an F-15 Eagle utilized a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and animal fats/oils. Both flights at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida were successful, and the Air Force hopes to soon certify this technology for full operational use.

This research has obvious parallels to the Internet. The Internet’s beginnings were in a military communications project to preserve communications in the face of disaster. It is a straight line from that research to the multiple uses of the Internet today. Hopefully, the research and experimentation that the military is doing now with renewables will be the start of another straight line—leading directly to a significant reduction of dependencies on fossil fuels across many sectors of the economy.

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