BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 11, 2013 (ENS) – The 28 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are reducing the energy footprint of their defense operations as a priority, top NATO officials said this week. NATO as a military and political organization, as well as individual allies, are working with alternative energy sources and developing multinational “smart energy” projects.
“A growing dependence on oil and gas, the progressive exhaustion of fossil fuels, constant increases in the price of raw materials, threats to the security of energy supplies and concerns about the consequences of climate change make energy security a major issue,” NATO said in a statement.
“In financial as well as security terms, our fuel dependency creates a ‘lose-lose’ situation,” said Ambassador Gábor Iklódy, NATO’s assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges.
“The more one looks at this dilemma, the more one understands why Alexander the Great was so obsessed with logistics. He once said that if his campaign were to fail, the first people he would slay would be his logisticians,” said Iklódy.
Apart from cost, the energy dependence of the armed forces has an impact on operational effectiveness, NATO officials point out. Transporting large quantities of fuel creates risks to the safety of the soldiers and demands an increasingly complex and costly logistical organization.
Environmental impact factors into the equation. “The Allies need to be mindful of the environmental consequences of military activities and minimize the logistical footprint of operations,” NATO said.
The U.S. Defense Department, DOD, spends roughly US$20 billion per year on energy – US$15 billion on fuels and US$5 billion on facilities and infrastructure.
The DoD is seeking to develop solar, wind, geothermal and other distributed energy sources on its bases both to reduce their $4 billion-a-year energy bill and to make them less dependent on the commercial electricity grid. Such on-site energy generation, together with energy storage and so-called smart-microgrid technology, would allow a military base to maintain its critical operations “off-grid” for weeks or months if the grid is disrupted, the DOD says.
In April, the DOD presented an environmental award to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska for constructing a landfill gas waste-to-energy plant that opened in January. The base was able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13,944 tons of methane and save $73.6 million, according to the DOD.
Setting up and running a military camp in the field is complex and costly, but NATO armed forces realize there is room to improve the energy efficiency of deployed forces.
Recent measurements of selected camps in Afghanistan suggest that about 70 percent of the fuel consumed is used for the cooling or heating of tents and shower water. Tents are poorly insulated and cooled by using inefficient air conditioners and generators, which are often left working throughout the day, whether or not the tents are in use.
Experiments have shown that energy savings can be made by using new materials for tent insulation and sun screens; by centralizing and better managing air conditioning and heating; and by changing the behavior of soldiers.
Fossil fuel dependence can be reduced by investing in renewable energies such as solar power and waste-to-energy systems.
NATO is seeking to raise awareness of the energy challenge and identify best practices among national projects for the smart use of energy through the Smart Energy Team.
“In the context of its Smart Energy Team, NATO has begun to explore more efficient energy solutions for cooling and heating tents, including adjustable load generators, heat pumps, floor heating and materials for insulation and for storing generated energy and solar energy,” says Michael Ruhle, head of the Energy Security Section in NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division.
Set up after the Chicago Summit in May 2012 and financed through the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, the Smart Energy Team is jointly directed by the Lithuania-based NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence and by the Joint Environment Department of the Swedish Armed Forces.
The team is made up of experts from eight nations, including six allies – Canada, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States – and two partners, Australia and Sweden. The team’s purpose is to recommend and initiate multinational projects under NATO’s Smart Defence initiative.
Advanced energy generation and saving technologies were presented at the Smart Energy camp set up at the military logistics exercise, “Capable Logistician 2013” that took place in Slovakia in June.
The British brought an atmospheric water generator, an intelligent power storage and management system and a tent that was lined with insulation material.
The Dutch provided photovoltaic solar panels and light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, while the Germans brought a prototype of a hydrogen fuel cell that produces electricity and could in future replace diesel generators.
“The aim of the camp was to promote awareness, demonstrate smart energy solutions and test the interoperability of systems and equipment,” said Dr. Susanne Michaelis, NATO’s action officer for smart energy.
A number of individual allies are exploring ways to reduce NATO’s reliance on fossil fuels.
“To reduce their dependency on fossil sources, mainly oil, the Italian Defence Forces, in particular the Navy, have decided to finance a project to certify the use of biofuel for the naval sector which is compatible with current equipment,” says Commander Pasquale Tripodi, head of Propulsion Plants Office, Italian Navy General Staff.
The Italian Navy is currently testing new-generation biofuels made from non-food biomass such as algae, agricultural residues and general wastes.
The new biofuels will be tested by propelling a warship on them this year. They are designed to be compatible with existing NATO naval fuel to avoid costly work to modify equipment and systems. The objective is to develop a single fuel for use by all the armed forces.
Another initiative, focused on aviation fuel, is being carried out by the National Research Council of Canada. In October 2012, the world’s first flight by a civilian jet powered 100 percent by biofuel was successfully carried out. Analysis of the flight showed a 50 percent reduction in aerosol emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.
“This historic flight represents a breakthrough for the renewable fuels industry,” says Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Carter of the Canadian forces. “It symbolizes an important threshold, not just for aerospace, but also in the development of sustainable sources of renewable energy.”
Under the multi-year NATO Science for Peace and Security project “Sahara Trade Winds to Hydrogen,” the Alliance supports cooperation between NATO and Mediterranean Dialogue countries to develop cutting-edge hydrogen technology to store and transport renewable energy from wind turbines.