Science Sunday – Military Edition

I’m going to piggy-back on two Science Friday episodes, so bare with me.

The military and Department of Defense are looking into putting solar farms on desert bases in the U.S. The DoD study into these desert solar farms found a potential for 7,000 megawatts or the equivalent of 7 conventional nuclear power plants.

This study by the DoD is part of an understated trend in the military towards cost-effectiveness. The military has no stated interest in getting green, at least not just for greenness sake. However, they are perceptible to huge budget cuts and the rising cost of fuel. (Source)

In order to get a little background, here’s a story from about 14 months ago. Some of the content from the following is discussing in passing in the story linked above.

The Navy and military writ large want to incorporate more biodiesel (the U.S. Navy being the single largest global consumer of diesel) into their generators and aircraft. The logic behind this decision is pretty sound:

Here’s an example. Think of those tents out in the desert of Iraq or Afghanistan. It can get pretty hot out there, like, you know, 120 degrees. So the tents, which have thin walls, no insulation – they’re tents – but they are air-conditioned, which takes a lot of fuel to battle all that heat and leaks out of the tents and you got to keep those air conditioners going all the time, all of which, the fuel, right, all that fuel has to be trucked in.

The trucking in of this fuel had at the time of this decision been the single deadliest job in the U.S. Armed Forces. Since then, Pakistan has closed several of their borders to US convoys carrying fuel, and I think the U.S. mission in that regard has shifted away from an Af-Pac route, but trucking in of fuel is still incredibly dangerous and expensive. Here’s what the Brigadier General in charge of this green initiative had to say for it:

…we’re getting kids killed out there on the roads every single day…

And so I started doing some analysis. It turned out about a thousand trucks a day to support the 300,000 troops and contractors we had in Iraq at that time, and of which about 35,400 were doing nothing but moving fuel. So I asked the question: What can we do to reduce our fuel requirements?

…well, we can insulate our structures, and it’s an absolute no-brainer when you start thinking about it because just, as you just said a minute ago, you’ve got these incredibly inefficient structures that are being air-conditioned. So let’s come up with some innovative ways to insulate our structures and in the process save billions of dollars – and that’s really what it is – and many, many lives. And so that’s how I got into this business.

For instance, a gallon of gas might costs $2.75 here in the United States, and that – and it’s purchased as such by the Defense’s energy supply center out of Fort Belvoir. But by the time you deliver it over those mountainous goat trails in Afghanistan, it can be as high as $200, $300, even $400 a gallon.

It’s a big quote, but here’s a link to the transcript. It’s also available in audio version.


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