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7 ways the military is embracing cleantech

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The U.S. government is growing into one of the most important cleantech customers. It’s been investing and proselytizing the value of clean power, biofuels and energy efficiency products and services for job creation, energy security and (insert your favorite cliché here). And it’s a natural extension that it also should set an example as a major consumer of these technologies.

The U.S. Defense Department, which uses 80 percent of the energy consumed by the federal government, is increasing its efforts to fund and use cleantech. A lot of these efforts are centered on drafting purchase plans and testing technologies in the field and one thing to consider is that larger companies might have an easier time convincing the military to buy than startups.

Here’s a list of some of the military’s plans and projects:

1. Cleaner fuels for ships and planes: The Navy has teamed up with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to help finance biofuel plants that will be built and operated by private companies. Announced this week, the $510 million plan will rely on the agriculture department to evaluate feedstocks and the energy department to select viable technologies to convert the feedstocks (mostly wood chips and plants) into fuels that can be blended with or replace existing jet and diesel fuels. The Navy, which already has been testing fuels made with algae and other sources, wants to increase its biofuel use over time and will eventually need 8 million barrels per year by 2020.

2. Energy storage on battle fields: The Navy also has another deal going with the energy department to focus on developing energy storage systems that can provide a more long-lasting power supply for military ops, thereby reducing the need to resupply fuels for power generation. The two agencies also are angling for funding for grid storage studies.

3. Clean power bases: The Army wants to see more solar and wind power installed at its bases. The Army Secretary John McHugh held a press conference last week to make that point and, more importantly, to answer criticism by project developers that the process for selling the Army a solar or wind project is too bureaucratic. The solution is to set up more bureaucracy, eh, a task force to streamline the procurement process. The Army wants 25 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources by 2025.

4. What the Air Force is up to? Back in 2006, the Air Force said it was the largest renewable energy buyer within the federal government. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Air Force is the third largest federal purchaser but still ahead of the Army and the Navy. Last month, this military branch outlined its plan to increase the use of biofuels and energy efficiency measures in running their training programs and missions. It also wants to add 1,000 MW of renewable energy at its bases in the next few years.

5. Competition among the biggies: Selling products and services to the military takes time and, naturally, money. Big companies in various renewable energy and energy efficiency fields already are jockeying for contracts. Earlier this month, Boeing and Siemens said they will work together to sell smart grid and other cleantech to the defense department. Details of what the two companies will do are scarce, but they are targeting the department’s well advertised call to cut energy use and reliance on fossil fuels.

6. But startups can get a piece of the action: The defense department prides itself on embracing cutting-edge technologies and investing in some of them through its DARPA program. That creates opportunities for startup companies. In fact, DARPA recently asked for proposals to build energy storage systems that can provide uninterrupted power supply at military bases. The idea, again, is to make these bases more self-sufficient so that they don’t need fuel resupply often.

7. Who is already contracting for the military? It’s not as if the military suddenly realized just now the importance of smart grid, energy storage and renewable energy generation for meeting their environmental and battlefield goals. Many companies already have gotten research and development contracts over the years to make their technologies a good fit for the military and, later, for the general public. Some of the newer projects include the one by International Battery, which has gotten a $730,441 contract from the Army to develop a lithium-ion battery system for tanks and other armored vehicles. The Navy tested algae fuel from Solazyme before the company held an initial public offering this year. Alphabet Energy just won contracts totaling $1.48 million from the Army and the Air Force to design systems that will generate electricity from waste heat. Viridity Energy signed agreements with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy and with an Army base in Maryland to come up with plans on using various demand-response and energy storage equipment to use energy more efficiently.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy

One Response to “7 ways the military is embracing cleantech”

  1. Military advancements in technology have a long history of manifesting the tools of change for us. Utilizing the right perspective we have a lot to gain from its efforts.