The Pentagon has launched initiatives to find alternative fuel sources. The goals include saving money, preserving dwindling natural resources and lessening U.S. dependence on foreign sources. Other than fueling jet engines, the largest drain on U.S. military fuel supplies comes from running generators at forward operating bases. The Pentagon says that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have required from 50 million gallons to 500 million gallons a year.
To help reduce consumption, the Pentagon is using $300 million of the $7.4 billion it received from the economic stimulus package to accelerate existing programs for developing alternative fuels and saving energy.
The Pentagon is developing mobile units -- small enough to fit on a five-ton flatbed trailer -- that use an anaerobic microbial process to convert garbage into oil. Two prototypes -- known as the Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery -- were deployed to Iraq and were successful in converting field waste -- paper, plastic, cardboard and food slop -- into biofuel to power a 60-kilowatt generator.
The Pentagon is also investing $15 million of the stimulus money into developing lightweight, flexible photovoltaic mats that could be rolled up like a rug and used at forward bases to draw solar power for operating equipment. About $6 million is aimed at improving a program run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to convert algae into jet propulsion fuel 8, or JP-8, that could power Navy and Air Force aircraft. Other initiatives include $27 million to develop a hybrid engine the Army could use in tactical vehicles and $2 million to develop highly efficient portable fuel cells that could reduce the battery load carried by infantry soldiers.
The Pentagon is also testing the use of solar and geothermal energy to provide power at installations. The Army, for example, is partnering with a private firm to build an enormous, 500-megawatt solar farm at Fort Irwin, Calif. The farm would supply the 30 to 35 megawatts needed to operate the installation, with the remaining available for sale to the California electrical grid.
The Pentagon is insulating thousands of tents in Iraq and Afghanistan with a two-inch layer of foam. The foam is sprayed like shaving cream from 55-gallon drums and hardens in about 20 minutes. This $95 million program dramatically reduced the amount of fuel needed for heating and cooling, saving $2 million in energy costs per day. (WashPost, 4/13/09)