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US Military Orders Less Dependence On Fossil Fuel 317

Posted by timothy
from the less-blood-for-oil dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that it can cost hundreds of dollars to get each gallon of traditional fuel to forward base camps in Afghanistan, so with enemy fighters increasingly attacking American fuel supply convoys crossing the Khyber Pass from Pakistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels. 'Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan,' says Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, 'and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.' The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, will be the first to take renewable technology into a battle zone, bringing portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment replacing diesel and kerosene-based fuels that would ordinarily generate power to run their encampment."
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US Military Orders Less Dependence On Fossil Fuel

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  • As usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:03AM (#33806494) Homepage

    Nothing spurs innovation like trying to kill the other guy.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:14AM (#33806556) Journal

      Nothing spurs innovation like trying to kill the other guy.

      What about trying to stop the other guy from killing you? I think the US military has the luxury of being the hunters that occasionally succumb to attrition. You can still lose that way (Vietnam) but we're not afraid of every single person in America being killed or captured. I'd argue you saw more innovation come out of World War II when we actually faced a threat of every person coming under the rule of a handful of tyrants (and really one very bad tyrant). Sure, Hitler's V1 and V2 Schneider Programs were innovative but look at what the work of the Polish and, later, British at Bletchley Park did to start us into the computer age. When you're striving to solve a problem and the fate of your entire country rests on it ... I think you forgo sleeping, eating, playing video games, etc. The guys 'innovating' in Afghanistan still go to sleep at night. The guys calling the shots probably don't live any differently than you or I and that is quite comfortably.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:21AM (#33806610)

      The US military is responsible for all sorts of amazing technology that makes like better. GPS would be a good recent example. Any civilian company would have said you were nuts to try and build a GNSS. WAY too expensive and really, how useful would it be? Not enough to justify the funds for sure. The military said "Wait we could locate every craft, every vehicle, maybe even every soldier, every bomb? Yes please." The result? The most amazing advance in navigation and location since, well, the theodolite probably. Everything is now GPS for primary navigation (and sometimes only these days). The world now navigates by GPS and is safer and more efficient for it. In fact hte EU recognized the problem in relying on a system owned by the US military and has talked about their own, but despite having already seen the need and the system working, they've yet to launch a single satellite (it was supposed to be up and running by now). For the moment, a military built system is the only option (the Russians also have a military GNSS).

      In some cases, the military really gets shit done. This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver. That is something hard to find in the corporate world. Another useful thing is they are public, they are owned by the government. Means anything they do can be made available to everyone. Of course not everything will be, things that are national security related won't (like the weapons themselves) but something like better solar technology? Sure.

      So maybe they will lead the way to better renewable power.

      • by Pojut (1027544)

        Never said it was a bad thing...merely said it was a thing.

      • The US military is responsible for all sorts of amazing technology that makes life better.

        Sure, but at what cost. What was the opportunity cost?

        This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver. That is something hard to find in the corporate world.

        This is the "missing strawman" fallacy, if you will. You're comparing an actual something to a virtual nothing. Not fair. Is there not a possibility that if all those resources were spent on something else we would now have something much more life-enhancing than GPS? Think flying cars... no, scratch that... world peace perhaps?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by stdarg (456557)

          You're comparing an actual something to a virtual nothing. Not fair. Is there not a possibility that if all those resources were spent on something else we would now have something much more life-enhancing than GPS? Think flying cars... no, scratch that... world peace perhaps?

          But you're also comparing things that don't exist with things that do. Honestly, if we spent less money on the military, we would just spend more money on entitlement programs. Temporary quality of life improvements, unfortunately unsustainable because of our population profile. Personally I'd prefer more military spending than we have now, because at least we (as in my generation) will get *something* for it. I don't have such high hopes for the 12% of every paycheck pumped into the SS Pyramid Scheme.

          • by srussia (884021)

            Personally I'd prefer more military spending than we have now, because at least we (as in my generation) will get *something* for it. I don't have such high hopes for the 12% of every paycheck pumped into the SS Pyramid Scheme.

            Neither do I. Would you invoke Godwin if I said: "I'd settle for another Leni Riefenstahl."?

        • Re:Seen and unseen (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MaWeiTao (908546) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:33AM (#33808056)

          The problem with technology is that people don't just sit down and decide, "We're going to build this network of satellites that beam signals to Earth where these little devices will use those signals to determine where they are. And we're also going to to have these neat little touch screens that facilitate usability and we're going to have to put together detailed maps and store them electronically."

          There are tons of advancements that went into those GPS devices. Many of those advancements are fed others, but many grew out of disparate avenues of research. Some were thanks to the space program, some university research, others developed in corporations and many more developed for military applications.

          The point is, we don't know where future technologies will grow out of. It isn't simply a matter of putting our minds to it. Simply throwing money at some vague idea doesn't necessarily result in anything meaningful. The vast majority of technological advancements grow out of real needs, even if it's simply to improve the functionality of an existing piece of hardware.

          Even if we decided to completely abandon military spending we wouldn't be able to do it because so many countries around the world depend on American military might. They have the luxury of spending so little on their own militaries because they know that when push comes to shove the US will be there for them.

      • by necro81 (917438)

        In some cases, the military really gets shit done. This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver.

        True, and I am grateful for their willingness to fund long-term research. Unfortunately, however, for all the same reasons you listed, the military sometimes does nothing but burn huge amounts of money for years and years on projects that

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Look at the loss rate on getting fossil fuels where they are needed. I want 5K gal of diesel at a far-FOB in the Afghan mountains. How many K gal am I going to burn just to get it there? It's awful. How about some compact nuke power cells a la submarines. Safe? No. Effective? Very. Generally speaking, war isn't very safe either.

    • Gets kind of interesting when the Taliban overrun your FOB.

      • by CdBee (742846)
        Not really, you just have a remote killswitch on the batlefield nuke that makes it go supercritical. Then inform the Taleban that any attempt to capture one will result in that immediate area being denied to them for the next 3 centuries
        • by Magada (741361)

          Thus giving them a very handy way of wagging the dog. How many nuke plants do you expect to afford to lose in this manner? How many allied troops would there be left in country a week after you pulled such a stunt? For that matter, how would the Afghan military that you're trying to train react? How about the Afghan gov't? How about the UN?

          Moronic.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Vectormatic (1759674)

          inform the Taleban that any attempt to capture one will result in that immediate area being denied to them for the next 3 centuries

          You think telling guys who believe their invisible friend commands them to kill the infidels who believe in the wrong invisible guy, that if they attack you, invisible "radiation" will strike them all down, and their children, and their childrens children too, will work?

          you might as well just nuke afghanistan right now, same end-result and a whole lots less work/fuss, and you might actually get rid of the taliban (which conventional war obviously isnt working for)

    • by necro81 (917438)
      A similar calculus exists for the logistics in Antarctica. Most of the coastal stations can be supplied from the sea - McMurdo gets nearly all its materiel by boat. The South Pole station is another matter. Currently 99% of what's at the South Pole gets brought in by air, at an enormous cost for fuel.

      Because of the enormous costs, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been developing the logistics and technology to have supply convoys go overland [army.mil] from McMurdo to South Pole station [asoc.org]. It's a lot slower:
      • by Magada (741361)

        There are lots of volcanoes there so IF one could dig for geothermal, things may become much easier. Sure, it would be a large initial investment.

      • the US Army Corps of Engineers has been developing the logistics and technology to have supply convoys go overland

        Another benefit of this approach is that you could probably get the History Channel to help fund it so they could turn it into one of their annoying reality shows.

  • ...pedal-powered tanks!
  • Let's hope that, with so many other technologies developed by the military, some of it finds its way into everyday use.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Let's hope that, with so many other technologies developed by the military, some of it finds its way into everyday use.

      In this case it's more that technology in everyday use finds its way into the military. They already have diesel-hybrid war machine design programs, for example.

  • I wonder if they use this https://powertraveller.com/iwantsome/primatepower/solargorilla/ [powertraveller.com]. I have one of their portable batteries and it is a pretty neat piece of hardware. They say somewhere that some military are using their equipment.
  • by chainsaw1 (89967) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:35AM (#33806688)

    The panels were on display at Modern Day Marine. Basically two standard cell panel integrated into a box that is "Marine resistant". Up to eight plug into a HD box housing the charge controller.

    The problem is that personnel need electricity for their gizmos. HMMWV's have 200A 24V alternators from the factory now (which are so big the original 6.5L alternator mounting holes need extensions). If you don't have a vehicle handy, charging items becomes more interesting since you already have 80+ lbs of gear on your back [adding extra / bigger batteries usually exceeds single person weight limits]. Solar is especially nice because you don't have to ship fuel and generator parts around--a base actually becomes more self sufficient. Simply using a green alternative for dino JP-8/5 doesn't do this.

    Another solution solution being heavily looked at with larger vehicles is diesel-electric propulsion, coupled with a renewable carbon sourced fuel (WVO conversion, algae, Fischer Tropsch, etc.). The hybrid drive provides electrical generation without needing a dedicated generator (stationary use) or an oversize alternator (mobile use).

  • Maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:46AM (#33806782) Homepage Journal

    It might be that less dependence on fossil fuels would mean less dependence on war.

    I realize this is going to be a minority opinion in this all-male, all-tech geek environment, but still...

    I wonder how quickly the taste for war would fade in this population if there was a draft? And if you couldn't get out of it by being too fat.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Thing 1 (178996) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @09:04AM (#33806962) Journal
      Taxes: the new draft. (War is fought mostly by machines these days, anyway -- they don't need your body, they need the resources that you can produce.) And yes, this does make us fat and careless.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because before the automobile, we never had wars, did we?

      • by copponex (13876) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @10:10AM (#33807732) Homepage

        Before oil became an important resource to the Western World, we didn't give two shits about anyone in the Middle East.

        I think everyone can agree that oil became important as it displaced coal as the primary energy source for vehicles, navies, and all the new military tech that depended on it. So let's set the change date at 1900.

        British military interventions in the Middle East before 1900:

        First Anglo-Afghan War (1839)
        Anglo-Persian War (1856)
        Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878)

        These were part of the "Great Game" of trying to control central Asia so Britain could protect India from Russia. Before 1900, the United States had never had troops in the Middle East, excepting a few skirmishes mostly involving the protection of our commercial fleet. Most US colonial activity was directed at the rest of the mainland (wars with Mexico), Florida, Hawaii, Central and South America, and imperialism in Japan, Hawaii, China, the Philippines and other parts of the Pacific.

        WWI established the West as the colonial owner of the Middle East, and the US and Britain have had troops stationed there ever since. Western powers also established political lines in the Middle East that still haunt us today, as the spoils of war from defeating the Ottoman Empire. The first deployment after the Ottoman Empire entered the war was to protect the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline - later to become Anglo-Iranian and finally British Petroleum in 1953.

        Here's a snippet from a BBC piece [bbc.co.uk]:

        The war ended with the British occupying the territory that was to become Iraq, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. With the Ottoman Empire destroyed, Russia paralysed by foreign intervention and civil war, and French influence limited somewhat by their minor military role in the Middle East, Britain's military success made her the dominant power in the region. The resulting settlement, which fostered an instability that continues to be a source of conflict today, generated much controversy at the time and has continued to do so ever since

        So, no, we didn't give a shit about that particular region of the world until they had something we wanted. Unless you have resources that we want, or you present a security threat by proximity, we don't care what happens to you. Just ask any citizen of Africa.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @09:33AM (#33807258)
      You do realize wars were fought long before fossil fuels were discovered, right? There are many factors that cause war, resources or geopolitics are only 2 of them. And about this dependence on oil, think about how many states' economies are tied into the production and export of oil. What happens when the demand for oil suddenly drops? Many of these states use the oil revenues to suppress internal dissent. When that revenue is gone, all they will have to suppress dissent is force. Force is generally responded to by force. Do you see what is going on in Sudan and Somalia? That is what could very well happen in those states as well. And the thing about conflicts like that is they have a tendency to involve those around them by spilling over borders creating large numbers of refugees. People imagine a world where war is increasingly rare without oil dependence. In fact, it will probably be much higher in the short term(roughly 100 years or so). Everything going on right now? It's just the warm-up.

      and IAAPS(I am a political scientist)

      and on a personal, political note, the only thing better than a draft would be compulsory term service in either a military or civil capacity. This would get rid of the entitlement culture this country is increasingly showing and would force people to actually learn a skill and be productive(at least temporarily). Let people earn their keep instead of simply sitting around waiting for unemployment checks.

    • by quatin (1589389)

      I am in favor of compulsory military service for every adult citizen in the US. Many modern nations enforce it: Germany, Norway, China and even Canada. It's not just for small third world nations.

      Even without it, we should have had a draft a long time ago. People are on their 4th and 5th tour of Afghanistan. I know they voluntarily signed up for service, but we are down right abusing their situation. The standing army isn't meant to support all wars by themselves. They are there for day to day security enfo

  • by CdBee (742846) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:46AM (#33806786)
    Over this summer I've refitted my old car with solar panels to charge the battery when its parked and replaced all low-energy incandescent bulbs with aftermarket LED replacements. on this one car its lead to a detectable reduction in liquid fuel use. I imagine the fuel savings from even minor adjustments like this, applied to the whole service fleet, could make a noticeable saving on fuel... even before they start retiring portable generators in favour of panels.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      Detectable? Citation needed. Your fuel guage isn't accurate enough to tell you much and human operation isn't precise enough.

      Dyno tests or I call bullshit.

      • by CdBee (742846)
        Every time I refill I do so from the same pump, always to the brim, and record the exact volume of fuel pumped and the mileage. I have a high-accuracy fuel-economy record going back 3 years.

        the improvement in fuel efficiency from my conversions is between 2% and 2.5%
  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @08:55AM (#33806860)

    If the US Army replaced their fuel guzzling M1 tank turbines with modern diesel engines like the MTU engine used in the Leopard they would spend a lot less fuel to begin with. The same applies to the HMMWV.

    If they switched to diesel-electric, the vehicles would spend even less power.

    For Afghanistan this is useless, but for campaigns near the shore it would be useful to recharge the vehicles using the nuclear reactor in US Navy carriers.

    If the infantry switched to caseless or cased telescoped ammunition, it would take less volume to transport the same number of rifle ammo rounds.

    The B-52 uses ancient engines from the late 1950s which guzzle fuel but the Air Force cannot get Congress to pay for the upgrade because it is deemed uneconomic.

    Solar can have its uses. The military could especially use flexible solar cells which could be more easily transported. However the military also needs reliability, something that works 100% of the time, which is something solar cells cannot provide.

    We have come a long time since Genghis Khan. The Mongols could feed their horses by grazing and drinking water along the way. They were nomads, so they brought cattle as food supply along with them, as well as their families etc. Present military hardware requires too much power for this to be feasible anymore.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by inviolet (797804)

      If the US Army replaced their fuel guzzling M1 tank turbines with modern diesel engines like the MTU engine used in the Leopard they would spend a lot less fuel to begin with. The same applies to the HMMWV.

      If they switched to diesel-electric, the vehicles would spend even less power.

      Leaving aside the energy cost to actually build the MTU engines, to redesign the M1's transmission, to ship the new engines to the repair yards, to pull the old engines from the M1s and dispose of them, to install the new engine

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @09:48AM (#33807460)

        The thing is more or less unstoppable. It is the most powerful tank, well, ever. It is agile, accurate, and extremely hard to kill. The "hard to kill" part accounts for much of its inefficiency given its obscenely heavy armor. The M1A2 variant is almost 70 tons. Efficiency wasn't in the design parameters. Being the baddest motherfucker on the battlefield was.

        A better idea when talking redesigns is to build a new tank. This is something the military has been talking about, but isn't getting around to doing and maybe they need to move it up. Never mind the cost of an M! moving under its own power, the things are impossible to airlift. A C5 can lift a whole one of them at a time. Also, while you might need to roll out the M1 against Russia, it is overkill in many situations. A lighter battle tank would work fine. that could of course have a smaller, more efficient engine and so on and so forth.

        That would seem to be a more sensible course of action if you are going to spend time and money to rebuild a tank. Build and use those, keep the M1s hanging out if they are needed.

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        To be fair, the Australian's do use a diesel engine in their M1 tanks because it makes more sense for their supply lines.
      • Your only valid point is about the flexible fuel (and even that is mitigated by having to transport much less diesel in the first place).

        All the other operations wouldn't take place at forward bases, so the energy cost is orders of magnitude less than guzzling gas on the battlefield. I saw the Discovery Channel show about the facility that does major overhauls on the M1; it's done right here in the USA.

    • German tanks ran on gasoline. Russian tanks ran on Diesel. Less dangerously flammable, much lower fuel consumption, and if you can get the fuel to the injector and turn the engine over it will ignite. These were among the decisive factors at Kursk, possibly the turning point of WW2.
  • Well, the military might help to make Stirling engines cheaper. Those engines are already used for transforming solar heat into electricity and seem to have a good effectiveness into doing so. The main problem of this way of capturing power is that the engines are quite expensive to make. This could be an opportunity for the military to make the world a better place.
    • Stirling engines are simple, cheap to make, and incredibly weak, unless you have a pretty amazing heat differential.

  • Just a good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @09:05AM (#33806970) Journal

    Political-correctness be damned, it's just a GOOD IDEA. It's an old saying that 'amateurs discuss tactics; professional soldiers talk about logistics'.

    The vulnerability of our fighting forces (or any modern military) to attacks on their fuel/supply trains is staggering, and was proven in Iraq. If the opposition in Iraq or Afghanistan was anything close to a peer-level opponent, it would have been catastrophic.

    The ability to thin the supply lines also multiplies the effectiveness of the logistics assets you have, as well.

    This is a great idea, and the fact that the military is addressing is extremely encouraging for our society. Not that the DoD is magical, but due to their requirements and hard field-testing, their solutions to things tend to be far more pragmatic and practical than the "political" solutions of politicians. Take "integration" as an example - the politicians talked themselves blue in the face about it for decades, but AFAIK there is no more color-blind, racially neutral employer today than the US military.

    I'd argue that what the military develops in terms of robust, practical methods of reducing energy consumption will translate into civilian systems relatively quickly.

    • Re:Just a good idea (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @11:40AM (#33809228)
      Indeed, even a cursory read of Sun Tzu's Art of War makes it quite clear that logistics are what wins and loses wars. Our foundering in Afghanistan and Iraq would be of know surprise to Sun Tzu, wars of the sort we've been fighting pretty much always go to the defender. More so now that it's a war crime to pillage.
  • The US military openly admits that their mission is to fight or engage local people? How did that one slip past the censor?

  • Stop using supply depots and start using pylons.

  • Sure, I don't like our empire, or the fact that we still think we can build nations and bring democracy to every corner of the earth. I do, however, like the technological progress that results from military spending.

    It's the closest thing we have to real publicly funded research that most politicians can support.

    The private sector has been dragging its feet on alternative energy for 30 years (yes Government does share the blame here). If the military decides it needs to be energy independent, and the phy

  • Biodiesel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by voss (52565) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @09:29AM (#33807218)

    One of the crops native to Afghanistan is safflower, safflower oil could be readily made into biodiesel.
    Also its a premium grade food oil so any surplus could be sold on the world market. It can also be used for
    dyes and paints. Of course it would be better for a native safflower processing industry to develop but
    that takes time. The army could build a processing plant and start buying safflower crops right away
    and then when they leave turn over the processing plant to a native company.

    The army gets cheaper diesel to fuel trucks and tanks and the native people actually make money and develop industry.
    Of course that makes too much sense.

  • "keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people."

    Well, at least they're finally being honest about it. None of this "To bring democracy" crap.

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