US military’s cleantech transition

 By Nicholas Newman

With an annual energy bill of $20 billion the US Department of Defence is under pressure to cut its bills and improve energy security. According to Pew’s new report, “Power Surge”, the DOD aims to satisfy 25 per cent of its energy consumption from renewable sources in the next ten years, with batteries, solar, wind and biomass set to make an increasing contribution. To meet this target the DOD plans to install 3 GW of renewable energy, an amount, sufficient to power 750,000 homes. Furthermore, the Master Energy Performance Plan, developed by the Pentagon, has made energy efficient energy systems and management a priority. In addition, the US military is using new technologies to cut energy consumption and new fuels to cut its energy bills to power its tanks, planes, ships and bases. If the U.S. military uses more oil than any other institution in the world, it’s also a leader in clean vehicle technology…

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With an annual energy bill of around $20 billion, The US Department of Defense (DOD) is under pressure to cut its bills and improve energy security. Around $15 billion a year goes on operational energy use, like powering a huge fleet of aircraft, ships and vehicles, and the logistics of transporting generators and fuels. Around $4 billion a year is spent on providing power for the military’s 300,000 buildings, spread across 500 bases at home and overseas. Oil accounts for the lion’s share of the DOD’s fuel bill at around 53 percent. The US Navy alone, spends at least $4 billion on fuel, equivalent to 1.3 billion gallons of fuels every year, while 84 percent of the Air Force’s annual $9 billion energy budget pays for jet fuel. US military consumption of approximately 100 million barrels of fuel in a recent year – was enough to power over 4 million circumnavigations of the globe at 25 mpg. Therefore, even small percentage savings in energy consumption should translate into big bucks.

The vulnerability of petrol-based supplies in overseas operations, environmental considerations and the expense lie behind the Department’s commitment to an energy saving and efficiency program, alongside a $7-billion investment in renewable energy by 2025. In 2014, Edward Thomas Morehouse Jr., Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, stated that the DOD would invest $1.7 billion to improve energy performance of weapons and military forces, and observed, “using energy more wisely will enable us to fly and sail farther, to loiter or remain on station longer, and give us supply lines that are more secure, requiring less forces, fewer lives and less money to sustain.” For example, transporting fuel to an overseas battlefield is expensive and potentially deadly. Records show that one in every 24 fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered a casualty in 2007 and the cost of buying and delivering fuel to remote outposts could reach $56 per gallon.


Around the world, US military installations are working towards achieving energy savings and meeting 25 percent of their energy requirements from alternative fuels, with a target of 3000 MW of renewable energy use by 2025.

Reflecting the new energy ethos and increased availability of information, all military bases are endeavoring to reduce their energy footprint. For instance, use of solar power is increasing. In Hawaii, the US Navy, in the bid to increase its energy security, is installing 17 MWs of solar power at three separate military installations on the island of Oahu. Fort Bliss, the base of the 1st Armored Division, the El Paso Intelligence Center and home to around 30,000 residents, has recently gained a 20-MW solar array, the single largest military renewable energy project ever undertaken. The solar panel, ground-mounted shallow embedment, 10 degrees tilt racking array is made of light, non-corrosive, durable and fully recyclable aluminium, reducing overall maintenance and replacement costs during the installation’s lifespan. For increased energy efficiency, the panels are equipped with Satcon grid synchronous inverters.

Recently, the US Navy awarded a contract to build a 30-plus MW geothermal plant at its Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada after decades-long geothermal power generation at its China Lake Station in California. And, overall, wind power is expected to provide 1 GW of power by 2025, representing around a quarter of renewable energy power used by the military by that time.

Alternative energy and fuels are also being explored. Experimentation with different fuel mixes for vehicles is underway. The US Navy currently uses a mix of 10 percent biofuels and 90 percent oil. It is currently working towards achieving a 50:50 mix since “it gives us a strategic advantage,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, on board, the USS William P. Lawrence guided missile destroyer in January. He argues that alternative energy use reduces US vulnerability to fluctuating oil prices and reduces US dependence on foreign providers.

US military and Oil use
Researchers are also testing showers that recycle water for future bathing and laundry. Equipment with devices that can be powered with solar chargers or compact fuel cells can now keep things running like air conditioning, communications, computers and auxiliary electrical systems in the field improving lives and safety

Improving energy efficiency can result in potentially big savings especially when it comes to operations. For example, current jet engine designs optimize either speed or fuel efficiency, but not both. Consequently, the Air Force is undertaking research in Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) which allows engines to switch seamlessly between operational modes, that enable high thrust, or increased range. According to an Air Force spokesman, adaptive engines offer 25 percent lower fuel consumption, 30 percent greater operating range and 10 percent higher thrust, compared to a traditional fixed-cycle engine. The Air Force awarded over $700 million worth of contracts for adaptive engines during 2015 and there is speculation that AETD will be used in upgrading the F-35 engine.

Small innovations on equipment for military personnel can yield savings, or improved safety and living conditions. For instance, an Army research center based in Massachusetts has designed tents with hinged doors to replace zipped tents. Researchers are also testing showers that recycle water for future bathing and laundry. Equipment with devices that can be powered with solar chargers or compact fuel cells can now keep things running like air conditioning, communications, computers and auxiliary electrical systems in the field improving lives and safety.

As for its vast military fleets of vehicles, the DOD is looking at energy efficient vehicles for use on its bases and on the battlefield. For instance, the Zero MMX Motorcycle is a stealth electric bike designed to enable US Special Operations Forces to drive over hostile terrain using a finely tuned and fully adjustable suspension system in near silence and with minimal heat signature. And as part of the US Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program, hybrid vehicles are being tested using BAE Systems’ Hybrid Electric Drive system.

Over the next decade, energy saving schemes, using alternative fuels and renewable energy, alongside big engineering and technological developments in new engine design, offer the prospect of substantial cost savings and increased energy security for the US military both at home and abroad.

about the author
Nicholas Newman
Freelance energy journalist and copywriter who regularly writes for AFRELEC, Economist, Energy World, EER, Petroleum Review, PGJ, E&P, Oil Review Africa, Oil Review Middle East. Shale Gas Guide.