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From Barracks to Battlefield: Pew Report Looks at Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces

Posted: 09/29/11 05:52 PM ET

Nations that fail to innovate lose their economic edge. Militaries that stagnate risk their strategic advantage. That's why pushing clean energy development is such an essential policy for making the United States and its servicemen and women safer, stronger and more successful.

Recognizing the strategic and battlefield challenges posed by over-reliance on conventional liquid fuels and an aging electric grid, the Department of Defense has implemented several clean energy initiatives to help meet its long-term power needs. As examined in a new study by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, this push to better serve combat troops could also help boost the efforts of U.S. businesses to gain a foothold in the growing global clean energy economy.

Clean Energy Innovation and Our Armed Forces

The Pentagon spent $15 billion on energy in 2010, making it the single largest energy consumer in the nation. Oil accounts for 80 percent of U.S. military energy consumption, amounting to more than 300,000 barrels per day. The Defense Department also ranks among the biggest institutional buyers of energy in the world, utilizing more than 930 trillion BTUs in 2009 -- a number roughly equal to the amount of power used by 9 million American homes.

Several significant trends over the past decade have motivated the Department of Defense to accelerate energy innovations. Most importantly, a high number of casualties -- including troops and civilian contractors -- in Iraq and Afghanistan are associated with fuel shipments. From 2003 to 2007, more than 3,000 deaths were related to the delivery of fuel. In addition, oil price shocks impose unanticipated costs on the military. And the Department of Defense is concerned about oil supplies from volatile regions, as well as electric supplies from an aging grid.

From Barracks to Battlefield -- Transforming Ideas Into Action

As detailed in our new report, the military is making important progress in three key technologies: vehicle development, advanced biofuels and building energy efficiency. The Department of Defense and the private sector are also working together to develop, test and deploy promising new systems to meet power needs.

For example, by reducing the time and miles that American service personnel spend protecting supplies, commanders can minimize risk to troops. Eighty percent of the convoys into Iraq and Afghanistan are for fuel, for which it is estimated that one in every 46 convoys results in a casualty.

Increasing vehicle efficiency is a strategy that could actually end up saving lives as well. The Pentagon is making strides to transform ideas into action. The Air Force and Navy are working to save fuel now through operational improvements, and they are also devising enhancements for their next generation of aircraft.

The military has set an ambitious overall target of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The Army's "Net Zero" program seeks to create six fully sustainable installations that maximize energy efficiency, implement water conservation practices and eliminate unnecessary waste generation. The Navy's "Great Green Fleet," an strike group that uses only alternative fuels, plans to be operational within five years. And the Air Force has set a goal of using biofuels for 50 percent of its domestic aviation needs by 2016.

Such efforts echo the military's past support or adaption of what, at the time, were cutting-edge technologies such as computers, the Internet, global positioning satellites and many other modern devices and systems.

A Bold Initiative Critical to Our Military and Our Nation

Time and again, military leaders have invested in new ways of harnessing energy to enhance the strength, speed, range and might of our armed forces. The Navy that once relied on wind power transitioned to coal, then oil and eventually nuclear power to propel fleets across the seas. The Air Force harnessed lightweight materials and jet propulsion to make superiority in the skies a central component of strategic doctrine. And on land there have been continuous improvements to tactical and non-tactical vehicles in order to meet the needs of ever-changing military missions.

Once again, our military is showing that U.S. economic, energy and national security interests are inextricably linked. For the armed forces, today's investments in clean energy will save lives and money well into the future. For the nation, these far-sighted policies could help reduce dependence on imported oil, create new manufacturing and economic opportunities and reduce harmful pollution.

learn more at pewenvironment.org