Rhein on Energy and Climate

US militaries have for a long time warned of the impact from climate change global security and, more directly, of the security risks resulting from excessive US dependence on imported oil from an unstable Middle East.

But recently, as the New York Times reports, the Army has taken concrete steps towards weaning itself off fossil energies. It has recognised that its dependence on oil and gas will constitute an increasing liability and security risk.

This has become particularly evident in Afghanistan, where NATO forces depend on long, costly and increasingly unsafe transport corridors to ship diesel and kerosene to their troops. In a country with abundant sunshine solar panels offer safe and low-cost electricity as an alternative to diesel generators. Of course, solar panels cannot replace diesel to power trucks, tanks or airplanes. But they may furnish electricity in army camps far away from unreliable electricity networks. Afghanistan may therefore be a testing ground for the use of non-fossil energy sources and constitute a small step towards more important strategic objectives…

Indeed, US military leaders aim at progressively covering a substantial share of Army’s power needs, including fuel for ships and kerosene for aircraft from non-fossil sources, in particular second generation biofuels. The first tests have been made with aircraft operating 50 percent on biofuels and the navy experimenting with algae as the raw material for biofuels. The Air force aims at having its entire fleet certified to fly on biofuels as early as 2011!

Assuming these developments to play out as scheduled it would revolutionise US military thinking, which in turn is bound to have implications for the civilian sector. If military planes can be certified to fly on biofuel-kerosene there is nothing preventing civilian planes to follow suit. This should finally ease the way for a long overdue international agreement to reduce C02 emissions from air transport.

If the US army is going to supply a rising share of its huge diesel and kerosene needs through biofuels, it will force the USA to re-asses its biofuel supplies and obtain increasing quantities from non-food sources.

Last not least, if the US military will effectively implement their visions this will have a profound impact on the US energy and climate debate. It is hardly conceivable for business and the Congress to stick to their stubborn rejection of an effective energy and climate policy if the Army decides to go renewable for security reasons.

Brussels 07.10. 10 Eberhard Rhein

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