The rise of fuel efficient cars has been getting a lot of press lately, and the U.S. Army is not getting left behind in the dust. The Army is on track to decrease fossil fuel consumption in its non-tactical vehicles by 17 percent by the year 2020, which beats the original goal of 14 percent. That trend runs parallel to a skyrocketing use of alternative fuels by the Army. However, given the pushback that certain federal legislators have given to the Navy’s alternative fuel initiatives, it won’t be a surprise if the next Congress tries to run the Army’s fuel efficiency and alternative fuels programs off the rails, too.
Army Vehicles by the Numbers
One way to cut fuel is to cut vehicles, and with the nation’s second-largest vehicle fleet, the Army has some room to cut (the U.S. Postal Service comes in first). A recent article by the Army News Service provides what seems to be a pretty definitive rundown of the numbers.
According to ARNews, the number of non-tactical vehicles kept climbing from the baseline year of 2005 until to 2009, when it reached a peak of 82,860 (non-tactical vehicles includes just about anything not used in combat, from cars and trucks to specialty vehicles like tractors and ambulances). The total projected for 2012 has dropped to about 74,000.
It’s important to keep in mind that, in the baseline year of 2005, the U.S. was already embroiled in two wars. However, some of the most recent drop in numbers is also credited to a 2011 memo signed by President Obama, which established non-tactical fleet performance reviews with the aim of cutting underused, unneeded and underperforming vehicles out of the fleet.
Alternate Routes Alternate Fuels and Fuel Efficiency
Aside from simply using fewer non-tactical vehicles, the Army has made some impressive strides in transitioning to a more fuel efficient fleet.
One key strategy has been to lease more vehicles through the General Services Administration rather than using the Army’s purchasing power. That enables the Army to replace gas-guzzlers with the latest fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel models more quickly. The GSA replacement cycle is only about 3-5 years, compared to the 13-15 year lifespan of a typical Army-owned vehicle.
One future strategy of particular interest is to lease more electric vehicles. They cost more up front, but the Army could offset those costs by integrating EV batteries with microgrids at its facilities. The stored energy in EV batteries could be sold to the grid provider or used on site.
Another angle of attack has been to tighten up the requirements for replacing Army-owned vehicles, under a policy implemented in the last year of the Bush Administration.
A third strategy is to match the vehicle types more closely to their real-world use. ARNews cites the example of using more hybrid-electric vehicles in areas where speeds are low in order to maximize the use of electric power, rather than using them for highway driving.
The Next Step for Army Fuel Efficiency
What this all amounts to is a wide-ranging suite of initiatives to cut fossil fuel consumption that seems fairly immune to interference by Congress, compared to the rather violent opposition encountered by the Navy’s alternative fuel program.
Some of the Army’s other programs, though, might end up raising some red flags in certain quarters.
The Army has also been focusing significant resources on cutting fossil fuels in tanks and other tactical vehicles. In 2009, the Army broke ground on the new Ground System Power and Energy Laboratory at TARDEC, its advanced vehicle research center in Michigan.
TARDEC is home to the Army’s first solar powered microgrid incorporating electric vehicles, so there’s a good chance that the Army could hook up with the Department of Energy’s new $120 million Joint Center for Energy Storage Research initiative.
Other TARDEC projects include a truck that incorporates an alternative fuel microgrid, a diesel-electric surveillance vehicle, and an Abrams tank that gets auxiliary power from fuel cells and advanced thermoelectric systems.
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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+.