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Defense Department Reduces Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Guest Nick Simeone

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Guest Nick Simeone

As the world prepares to mark Earth Day 2009 on April 22, the Pentagon has become the “greenest” of federal agencies, with military operations worldwide deriving a full 10 percent of their power from sources other than fossil fuels.


As the nation’s single largest energy consumer, the U.S. military is increasing its reliance on alternative and renewable energy sources to provide power to everything from soldiers in the field to bases and installations around the world.


Pentagon officials say reducing dependence on fossil fuels -- and foreign oil in particular -- is becoming increasingly critical to national security at a time when the amount of energy consumed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has surpassed that of all other wars in U.S. history.


Pentagon officials put the Defense Department’s total energy costs for fiscal 2006 and 2007 above $13 billion. Last summer’s spike in oil prices helped to push the department’s 2008 energy bill alone to $20 billion, a senior Pentagon installations and environment official said.


Apart from the cost, reducing the reliance on oil in war zones is critical to saving lives. Trucks delivering fuel to U.S. forces in Iraq have been among the most frequent targets of insurgent attacks, with about half of all military casualties involving supply convoys. A recent Defense Department report to Congress on energy security described what it called the “high burden” of protecting overland routes and the strategic importance of finding other means of delivery.


All four military services have established energy task forces. In testimony to Congress earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he plans to appoint a Defense Department “energy czar” to oversee conservation efforts.


But defense officials say the department already is ahead of other federal agencies on conservation issues.


“For its size, [the Defense Department] is No. 1 in terms of conservation among federal agencies,” the senior installations and environment official said. “The Pentagon is definitely a green building.” For example, he noted, ongoing building renovations include installation of water- and power-saving technologies.


The military’s growing reliance on alternative energy also can be seen at bases and operations worldwide. For example:


-- The Navy Air Weapons Station China Lake in California’s Mojave Desert is powered completely by geothermal energy;


-- A solar farm at Fort Irwin, Calif., is expected to produce enough electricity to supply power to the surrounding community;


-- One-third of the power used by the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is derived from wind; and


-- An Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber has flown on power produced completely from synthetic fuel.


Also, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program is developing jet fuel from algae, bacteria and rapeseed. A form of wearable power is being developed for soldiers deployed in areas where electricity is scarce or unavailable. Vehicles are being made from much lighter, but stronger, titanium rather than steel, not only to improve fuel efficiency, but also to provide better protection.


The Army is “building green, buying green and going green,” said Addison Davis, the service’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health.


“Over the next five years,” he said, “we’re putting about $63 billion in new construction into the United States Army, and the vast majority of that is going to be green buildings.”


The Army even has a project under way in Iraq in which garbage is converted into biofuel to power generators. “We’re doing a tremendous amount in terms of wind, solar, geothermal and waste energy through our biomass programs,” Davis said.


Conservation efforts have been given a boost by the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package, which earmarked some $300 million for Pentagon alternative energy projects.

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