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Cleantech finds an unlikely ally — war

BY AARON LIM. The race towards building a world not dependant on fossil fuels has a powerful, but silent ally in the global military apparatus.

For the Pentagon, clean energy and sustainability isn’t about saving whales or hugging trees — it’s about improving combat efficiency.

Not only does the reliance on fossil fuels put soldiers’ lives at risk in war zones, but it also requires extra manpower to protect fuel convoys — resources which could be otherwise directed to other tasks.

The need to transport fuel to Forward Operating Bases along vulnerable supply lines is a critical weakness which has been recognized and exploited by the Taliban in Afghanistan to great effect. According to the Pentagon, one in 24 fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan ended in an American casualty, with more than 3,000 Americans killed in fuel-supply convoys between 2003 and 2007 alone. Cutting the dependence on fossil fuels would clearly reduce the number of casualties in war zones, analysts believe.

The importance of clean-technology and its impact on combat efficiency for the military is abundantly clear. “By using alternative energy, by changing the way we use and produce energy, we’re going to continue to be the most formidable expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known,” a high-ranking US Military official stated. “In the drive for energy reform — and this is critical — the goal has got to be increased war-fighting capability. Too many of our platforms and too many of our systems are gas hogs.”

The global presence of the American Military juggernaut comes at a great financial cost in terms of fossil fuels. In 2009, operational energy use for military operations was approximately US$9.4 billion. As the United States’ single largest user of energy, the Department of Defence has the potential to drive down the cost of emerging clean-energy technology through economies of scale.

Paradigm shift

In the 1960’s, the falling cost of semi-conductors and micro-chips was partly attributable to bulk purchasing by the Pentagon when it realized the combat potential of that technology. According to Washington based think-tank The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), since 2009, the US Department of Defence (DoD) has invested US$5 billion in clean energy research, development, testing, demonstration, and procurement.

“The DoD now procures nearly twice as many innovative clean energy technologies as it does off-the-shelf clean energy technologies,” the report stated. “As a result, DoD accounts for 24 per cent of public investments in clean energy innovation in 2012 — second only to the Department of Energy.”

The ITIF report also stated that the DoD’s investments are capable of accelerating clean energy innovation in circumstances when mission-oriented research and procurement align — namely for biofuels, power electronics, energy storage, and smart grid technologies.

Aaron Lim He has worked as an analyst for the New Zealand Army and as a manager for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. He has also worked for the New Zealand Stock Exchange and as the stock-markets editor for Fairfax Digital New Zealand. Lim completed his master’s thesis on strategic studies.

Posted 12/05/2014 by Reg Tucker

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