This week’s Txchnologist, a weekly magazine sponsored by GE, takes a look at how the military is going green, after the Department of Defense last week rolled out its plan to consume less, and find new ways to source, energy.
Here are nine ways that the military is trying to cut down its energy use:
1. Portable solar panels to power batteries. A serviceman on a three-day foot patrol in Afghanistan will carry 33 batteries. By 2012, that number could increase to 50 batteries. The Army has begun equipping soldiers with portable 62-watt solar panels that can charge batteries in five to six hours.
2. Net zero energy bases. Forward-thinking urban architects have long championed the idea of constructing buildings that generate as much energy from renewable sources as they use. Several bases, including Fort Carson, Colo., are currently attempting to go net zero.
3. Unmanned drones to deliver cargo. Not only would it be safer to drop off cargo with a drone, it would also reduce aircraft weight by removing non-essential items and save fuel. The Air Force asked suppliers in 2009 to build a vehicle that can deliver 500-3000 pounds of cargo within a radius of 500 nautical miles and have a speed of 250 knots and vertical take-off and landing capability.
4. Jets powered by plant seeds and waste grease. The Air Force uses more than 2 billion gallons of aviation fuel a year — more than some small countries — and consumes the most energy of any service. It has begun experimenting with blends of military aviation fuel and biofuels made of camelina, a plant seed oil, beef fallow and waste oils and greases.
5. “The Great Green Fleet.” The Navy has a series of green initiatives – including getting half of its energy from alternative sources by 2020 – but the catchiest is the “Great Green Fleet,” a carrier strike group with nuclear and hybrid electric ships and biofueled jets that is slated to be operational by 2016.
6. Hybrid propulsion systems. The USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship, has a hybrid gas turbine/electric propulsion system that could save $250 million in fuel over the ship’s lifetime. The diesel electric motors power the ship at low speeds and the 70,000 horsepower gas turbines – made by GE – propel the ship through the high seas.
7. Shorter aircraft routes. One way to cut down on fuel use by aircraft is to work with allies to fly more fuel-efficient routes. The U.S. recently formalized a deal with Kazakhstan to allow U.S. supply and troop planes to pass through the former Soviet republic’s airspace directly into Afghanistan. Planes leaving the U.S. can fly directly over the North Pole into Northern Afghanistan.
8. Solar outposts. Supplying fuel to forward bases is expensive and dangerous, so there’s an imperative to create on-site power generation and solar is the most obvious choice. A company of Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan is looking into generating solar power.
9. Locally grown alternative fuels. Transporting a gallon of gas to combat vehicles in Afghanistan costs about $400, according to a 2009 Pentagon estimate. If the military could source biofuels from local crops, an option troops have explored, it would likely be less expensive and have the additional benefit of promoting the local economy.