U.S. Air Force Has No “Green Energy Mission” But is Going Green Anyways

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U.S. Air Force tests jet biofuel on Thunderbird flight teamYesterday’s Air Force Energy 101 Media Roundtable hammered home one main point about military sustainable energy policy as it relates to U.S. air power. In the words of Dr. Kevin Geiss, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Air Force for Energy, it comes down to this: “Fly, fight, and win…That’s what we’re here for. That’s our mission.” However, in the course of a wide-ranging discussion Dr. Geiss also made it clear that a new, sustainable approach to energy is going to be a key element in supporting “a stronger energy security posture” for the U.S. Air Force mission into the future.

The U.S. Military and Sustainable Energy

CleanTechnica has covered military sustainability numerous times over the past couple of years, and one pattern that is emerging is the willingness of Department of Defense officials to take their message of sustainable energy to the public. They dropped a huge hint two years ago ago, during congressional testimony that focused on the high cost of transporting fuel to bases in Afghanistan. Since then the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines have been reaching out to the media to publicize a wide range of renewable energy projects including the use of renewable energy in combat zones and an ambitious net-zero energy goal for Army bases.  The Air Force in particular has been bringing the message home with demonstrations of high-performance biofuel for fighter jets, including air shows by its legendary Thunderbirds team.

The U.S. Air Force: “Power When and Where We Need It”

During the roundtable, Dr. Geiss described the operational complexities of fueling up the U.S. Air Force. Aside from combat, surveillance, training and other operational missions, the Air Force logs an average of 900 flights daily for “mobility,” to move supplies, equipment and personnel around, including medical evacuations, disaster response and humanitarian relief. That sounds like a pretty tall order but on the other hand, the Air Force is rapidly progressing with the testing and certification of its fleet to run on drop-in biofuel replacements for conventional fuel. Whenever the biofuel industry ramps up its production, “we are ready to consume,” said Dr. Geiss.

Improving Military Energy Productivity

Aside from biofuels, Dr. Geiss also made some interesting points about the limitations of a narrow focus on energy efficiency. The Air Force also looks at “energy productivity” in terms of how many tons it can move per gallon of gas, rather than simply how much mileage or air time it can rack up per gallon. As a result of various tweaks including routing and scheduling, in the past years the Air Force has moved about 25 percent more cargo while increasing mobility consumption only 3 percent.

 The American Jobs Act and Military Energy Policy

As described by Dr. Geiss, the Air Force will be ready to go full on biofuels whenever the private sector can get its production act together, which means that the industry is going to need some serious stimulation in the form of a national biofuel policy. That illustrates the same link between new green jobs, clean energy and national defense that in turn ties President Obama’s ambitious new  American Jobs Act proposal to the green jobs and infrastructure successes of  the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Image: Air Force Thunderbirds by Senior Airman Brian Ybarbo via Beverly & Pack on flickr.com.

Tina Casey on Twitter @TinaMCasey

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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