The US military, while known for their massive size and budget, is now making moves to become more eco-conscious, or at least taking steps in the right direction. While the weapons of war are not changing drastically, the vehicles are. In fact, under the direction of Obama’s vision to create a clean energy economy, the Department of Agriculture and Department of Navy have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems
While the name, The Great Green Fleet, is not great for marketing, it does have five realizable energy goals set by Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus and the USDA:
The navy has actually begun testing biofuels on their fighter jets. The biofuel is a 50-50 mix with Petro-fuel and will most likely contain either algae, camelina or jatropha. While there is still regular fuel in the engines, the usage of biofuel can potentially reduce jet fuel carbon emissions by 84% [Source: Treehugger] with the use of camelina, a common weed. Not only can biofuels reduce emissions, the biofuel blends also increase jet engine efficiency by 1.1% [Source: Reuters]. In fact, the recent test of the Green Hornet (F404 F/A-18) showed that the engine did not react poorly towards biofuels, in fact, it could not tell the difference between regular fuel and biofuel [Source: Navy].
While these first steps are encouraging, there are also many issues that go along with it. First off is how to collect that much biofuel. The major issue is space. Should food based biofuels be used, there would be a shortage of food and thus an increase in prices. Plants like camelina are promising as they grow in the wild. Camelina has been called the “miracle biofuel” as the plant can be grown in marginal soil, requires little rainfall, yields twice the amount biofuel as soybeans and produces more cold-resistant oils [Source: Ecogeek]. Montana alone can produce 200-300 million gallons of biofuel a year, and with 9 different states on board and 4 Canadian provinces, camelina could potentially become the next big biofuel. However, the US military burns around 10.6 million gallons of gas every day [Source: Forbes]. These high fuel demands make it difficult for biofuels to really take over the market since the massive amount of fuel needed every year is too demanding. In fact, increasing demand for plant-based biofuels could have the opposite effect on the environment as more land is cleared to plant these crops.
While the step that the military is taking is still a small step, it’s one in the right direction. Still, it’s not just what the vehicles burn, it’s also how they are made and what they carry. While the jets and ships may emit less carbon, the fact of the matter is that they are still carrying nuclear weapons (very bad for the environment) and ultimately the production of these vehicles are still not environmentally friendly. However, since the military tends to receive the newest and hottest technology, it probably won’t be long until we actually have planes, boats and tanks running off of renwable energy…hopefully.
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