The U.S. Navy has been placing a well-aimed barrage of funding toward sustainable new energy technology in recent years, including new solar installations at naval bases, high-efficiency desalination systems, and even camelina biofuel for Navy fighter jets. Now the Office of Naval Research has upped the ante with grants for nine new green tech research projects. The grants go to the nine winners of a clean energy challenge that the Navy issued at its recent Naval Energy Forum. The awards underscore the importance of new sustainable technology for Naval operations, but the Office of Naval Research also observes that investing more money in new technology is only part of the solution.
In order to effect a broad new approach to energy, the Navy needs to implement a sweeping “policy change to help make the necessary cultural shifts in how its people think about energy use and the decisions they make in all settings, including acquisition, tactical and shore use.” It’s a call for introspection that political leaders in the civilian sector should take to heart.
The Naval Energy Forum Tech Grants
Despite the economic, public health and environmental harm caused by British Petroleum’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of New Mexico, some state governors in the affected area have continued to call for more offshore oil drilling. Their ranks include a former D.C. lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, which may partly explain the continued focus on conventional energy sources. In contrast, the Navy’s new grants reveal a far more forward thinking and imaginative approach to providing safe, long term solutions for the U.S. energy supply. One awardee is researching methods to extract lithium and hydrogen from seawater, which could lead to the development of low cost, sustainable hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. High efficiency photovoltaics, advanced biofuel production, and bioelectrochemical energy generation also made the list, along with new surfaces for ships’ hulls that save energy by reducing drag.
The U.S. Navy and Sustainability
The Energy Forum web page at the Office of Naval Research provides some significant insights into the U.S. military perspective on sustainability. Among other things, the Navy notes that it is ramping up its environmental stewardship role in the context of civilian support for environmental policies. That’s a two-way street, with the Navy as both a receiving and driving force for change. If we’re really serious about supporting our troops and not just plastering our cars with flags and stickers, it’s worth considering the money quote from the website: “As an early adopter of technology solutions, alternative energy sources, and efficient practices, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps acts as agents of positive change to catalyze similar change in their host communities across America.” While the Navy notes that one overall goal is to reduce “vulnerabilities associated with dependence on foreign oil,” it also pushes the solutions away from more domestic drilling, and toward a lower carbon footprint – hardly an endorsement for more drill baby, drill.
Image: U.S. Navy by mashleymorgan on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.