Clean Energy For The Military | May 2, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 18 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 18 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 2, 2011

Clean Energy For The Military

Government: Energy, Defense Departments aim to develop fossil-fuel alternatives
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Sustainability
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: White House, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, clean energy
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Lynn (left) and Poneman discuss efforts to develop alternative-energy and energy-efficient technologies last week during a forum on U.S. energy security.
Credit: Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay/C&EN
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Lynn (left) and Poneman discuss efforts to develop alternative-energy and energy-efficient technologies last week during a forum on U.S. energy security.
Credit: Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay/C&EN

The U.S. military is making progress in implementing clean energy technologies to help reduce the U.S.’s dependence on oil. This effort is the result of a collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Energy and was the focus of an energy security forum held last week at the White House.

“DOE is the nation’s largest funder of the physical sciences,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman said. “Coupled with the scale of the Defense Department’s operations and its potential to act as a test bed for innovative technology, this partnership is a crucial vehicle to strengthen our national security and to build a clean energy economy for America.”

The U.S. military consumes more energy than is used by two-thirds of all nations worldwide, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III explained. With the limited supply of fossil fuels and their rising costs, DOD needs cheaper and more abundant energy sources to power its global operations, he noted.

To illustrate how clean energy is helping the military, Lynn described flexible solar panels that were developed in the 1990s at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. When the Marines tested these panels in Afghanistan last fall, the impact was immediate: “The Marines ran two patrol bases completely on solar power and cut diesel-fuel consumption at a third base by over 90%,” Lynn said. Foot patrols using the panels had power for a whole week and didn’t require the usual restocking of batteries every 48 hours.

The results from the military’s adoption of clean energy are encouraging, but the road to mass commercialization can be difficult, Poneman and Lynn acknowledged. Nevertheless, Poneman said, “while the government cannot, and should not, be responsible for single-handedly driving product demand, it can act as an important catalyst for the market.”

Outside experts applaud the collaboration. At the forum, John M. Deutch, a chemistry professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlighted three areas that have benefited from the partnership: batteries; fuel cells; and alternative fuels derived from sources such as biomass, natural gas, and algae. “I know U.S. industry—and certainly U.S. universities—are eager to participate and support this venture,” he said.

 
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