Photo provided by the US Department of Defense.

Cleantech Adaptations Can Create A Quieter, More Energy Efficient Military

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The climate crisis radically alters the tactical, operational, and strategic environments the US military faces, posing difficult challenges for national security. Despite these implications, the Department of Defense (DOD) still emits more carbon dioxide than many industrialized nations. That realization has hit the top echelon of the military — finally — and cleantech adaptations and innovations are starting to appear on more DOD desks as the stark clarity of the climate crisis looms.

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Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” It places the climate crisis at the forefront of foreign policy and national security planning, charging the US to work with other countries and partners, “both bilaterally and multilaterally, to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway.” The Order pushes the US to move quickly to build resilience against the impacts of climate change.

The DOD’s Climate Adaptation Plan in Action

The DOD’s Climate Adaptation Plan was approved by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget. The DOD identifies climate change as a critical national security challenge in the Plan. “Climate change will continue to amplify operational demands on the force, degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to our service members, and could require modifications to existing and planned equipment,” according to the Plan.

Those predictions have quickly become the foundation for a number of cleantech adaptation nods that are moving from R&D to implementation.

The DOD has significant scientific, research, and development capabilities that offer the potential to accelerate the deployment of technologies needed to build resilience and improve both climate adaptation and mitigation capabilities. Particular attention now focuses on collaborating with other agencies and industry on dual-use technologies.

Full life-cycle cost analysis and whole systems design techniques are becoming the standard for all installation and infrastructure-related investments.

The DOD Regional Sea Level (DRSL) tool enables DOD planners and managers to understand and assess a range of site-specific scenarios of future sea level rise and extreme water level conditions for 3 time horizons: 2035, 2065, and 2100. The scenarios can be adjusted for local conditions of future sea level change and storm surge. The DRSL database contains a graphical user interface that provides users access to the scenario information for DOD coastal and tidally influenced military sites worldwide.

The DOD is assessing the viability of current equipment to operate in extreme climate conditions. They are identifying opportunities to incorporate new technologies to improve performance or adapt existing equipment that may fill an emerging climate-related requirement. They are also evaluating climate performance of future weapons systems.

The More Situational Awareness for Industrial Control Systems Joint Capability Technology Demonstration ensures industrial control system cyber security and reduces the adversary threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

The DOD is aligning DOD supply chain resilience efforts to specifically support key climate resilience and mitigation technologies.

They’re acting to spur deployment of climate mitigation technologies such as microgrids and power storage when such items align with DOD’s mission requirements.

They’re pioneering the use of carbon-sequestering construction technologies, exploring potential for major suppliers to disclose GHG emissions, treating climate change vulnerabilities as a “material weakness” on financial reports, and expecting commitments to public reporting on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) features of their business operations.

Case Study: Cleantech Anti-Idling Technology

Did you know that the US DOD accounts for more than half of the federal government’s carbon footprint?

One of the cleantech adaptations to reduce their carbon footprint and noted in the DOD’s Climate Adaptation Plan is to innovate with new technologies that reduce fuel consumption. These may add capabilities such as improving operational mission capabilities without use of the main engine — such as silent watch — while also decreasing logistics requirements.

An example of a fuel consumption reduction cleantech adaptation is taking place with anti-idling technology. As military vehicles sit idle, soldiers still depend on their vehicles to draw power for radio communications, air conditioning, electronics, and other necessities. Technology could mitigate the waste by shutting the engine off when the vehicle is stationery. This cleantech conversion would cut its fuel consumption by 20% overall. Using less fuel means smaller fuel shipments through hostile areas.

This anti-idling technology could have a big climate impact. Pentagon planners want a quieter, more fuel-efficient military. “If you look at each vehicle, maybe that’s not a lot of fuel, but when you look across the deployed force, that can be really significant,” said Joe Bryan, the chief sustainability officer of the Defense Department.

Soon the Humvee will be retired and replaced by a next-generation workhorse vehicle, known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV. With an eventual fleet of 60,000 JLTVs, relying only one-fifth less fuel will make a big difference.

And the cleantech conversion could serve as a pilot program for other vehicles.

“The warfighter purpose and the view of climate as a national security challenge are fully aligned in cases like this,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said, as reported by the Washington Post. Hicks was on a tour in the Pentagon courtyard of an exhibition of climate-friendly technology, including prototypes of vehicles with anti-idling technology.

Yet the cleantech adaptation for anti-idling isn’t as simple as it might seem. Sure, turning the engine off automatically when a vehicle is stopped is a step that many auto companies incorporated years ago. But military equipment has a higher requirement for insulation and technologies. The military anti-idling system relies on extra lithium-ion batteries, just a little bigger than those used in regular cars. And it gets some extra equipment to automatically flip the engine back on whenever the spare power needs an extra boost. That means the vehicle briefly rumbles back to life every few minutes.

In the meantime, soldiers can use their radios and other communication devices, along with air conditioning or heating, without idling the engine nonstop.

Only a single prototype JLTV with the anti-idling technology has been built so far, but the Pentagon has said it hopes to incorporate it into a new round of 16,000 vehicles for which it will award a contract early this year. It is also considering retrofitting existing vehicles at a cost of $50,000 each, said Michael Sprang, who heads the Pentagon office overseeing the JLTV’s design. The conversion kit weighs about 190 pounds.

The Pentagon wants to establish a reliable supply of lithium and other ingredients of batteries. It also acknowledges that it can never match the scale of the private sector. Securing the armed services’ energy supplies through alternative energy sources and technologies is critical for creating an adaptive and capable climate change-ready force, so the work toward accessing battery ingredients, less fuel consumption, and a host of other DOD cleantech adaptations continues robustly.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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