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If you ask me, we're spending too much on military anyway. Save your fingers. I know what you will reply.
Gas-guzzling Pentagon going green
by Olivia Hampton Olivia Hampton – Sun Mar 29, 6:06 pm ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon may seem an unlikely promoter of alternative energy, but the biggest consumer of oil in the United States is looking at ways to become just that by partnering with private firms.
"When you don't use as much fuel, not only does it not cost you as much, but it also saves lives and injuries of those people who would have to deliver fuel through hostile territory," Assistant Army Secretary for Installations and the Environment Keith Eastin told AFP.
Despite reducing its overall energy consumption by five percent between 2005 and 2007, the US military spent 13 billion dollars on energy in 2007 and requested an additional five billion due to a spike in oil prices.
The stakes are high, with the army estimating that reducing fuel consumption by just one percent translates to about 6,400 fewer soldiers in fuel convoys, a favorite target of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of this has added up to renewed urgency for the Pentagon to reduce its energy consumption. It is already federally mandated to obtain 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Hundreds of small companies are expected to benefit from the military's green energy push, developing everything from alternative fuels to electric vehicles and efficient power generators.
One low tech initiative that has yielded surprisingly big results is spraying tents with a layer of hard foam. The insulation helps maintain steady temperatures inside the tents, reducing fuel consumption for heating or cooling by 50 percent and saving an estimated 100,000 gallons of fuel or two million dollars per day.
"Each gallon you save is a ton of money that can be used elsewhere, either at the installation or fighting the war," Eastin said. He estimated that a three-dollar gallon of fuel can end up costing up to 28 dollars on the battlefield after factoring in transportation and security costs.
With a staggering 7.7 billion dollars spent last year on aircraft fuel alone, the US Air Force is the military's biggest energy consumer.
It is purchasing renewable energy, reducing aircraft loads and certifying its entire fleet to fly on a 50/50 synthetic fuel blend by 2011.
"Our efforts to drive a domestic source of synthetic fuels is a piece of the puzzle to be more secure as a nation and as the air force," said Kevin Billings, acting air force secretary for installations, environment and logistics.
The air force estimates that removing 100 pounds from its heavy cargo fleet saves one million pounds of fuel per year, and it is now reducing weight with simple measures such as using lighter paint or removing redundant toolboxes.
"It's like running when you put on 20 pounds. It's so much easier to run a mile when you aren't carrying that extra weight around," Billings told AFP.
At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, SunPower Corporation has built North America's largest solar farm, where over 72,000 solar panels now supply upwards of 14 megawatts of clean electricity to meet about 25 percent of the base's needs and save a million dollars annually.
Green energy won big with US President Barack Obama's 787-billion-dollar stimulus package, which earmarked 300 million dollars for Defense Department research in renewable energy and 4.5 billion dollars for greening federal buildings.
"We are part of this clean energy movement and interest for what we are doing grows day by day," said Greg Cipriano, vice president of the Massachusetts-based Protonex Technology Corporation.
The company has produced portable power and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fuel cells for the military since 2005 and plans to deploy them by 2010.
Officials say the energy-saving initiatives could make green energy more commercially affordable.
"Just by nature of the fact that we are big, we can be a test bed for a whole lot of things that normally wouldn't seem to make a lot of powerful economic sense," said Eastin.
Jet engines and global positioning systems were for example first developed for the military before reaching private investors and consumers.
"This was always our strategy -- go after the military market first, then spin off products for the commercial market from that solid product foundation," said Cipriano.
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