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US Military a Lean, Mean, Greenin’ Machine?

The US Department of Defense is investing heavily in green technologies, pledging to source one-fourth of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Julia Whitty reports on the Navy’s green efforts for Mother Jones:

Four times in history [the Navy] has overhauled old transportation paradigms—from sail to coal to gasoline to diesel to nuclear—carrying commercial shipping with it in the process. “We are a better Navy and a better Marine Corps for innovation,” [Navy Secretary Ray Mabus] says. “We have led the world in the adoption of new energy strategies in the past. This is our legacy.”

Last summer, the US Navy debuted its “Great Green Fleet” in training exercises in the Pacific Ocean. During the exercises, the fleet—composed of an aircraft carrier, two destroyers, a cruiser and an oiler—ran at least partially on renewable sources. Make no mistake, this was a PR stunt. Journalists like Whitty were invited along and treated as distinguished guests, and green hats were printed out for the occasion, much to Senator McCain’s dismay. But the Navy’s commitment goes beyond renewably-sourced war games:

Wide-reaching targets include…requiring that by 2020 each base—the Navy owns 2.2 million acres of land plus 65,000 buildings—be at least 50 percent self-powered by renewables like solar, wind, and wave energy; and ensuring that at least 50 percent of the Navy’s total energy consumption comes from alternative sources by 2020.

The US military has a long track record of trying out nascent tech years before it makes its way into the hands of grateful consumers. The Internet and GPS wouldn’t have been possible without DARPA research and support. It’s still too early to tell if the advanced biofuels the Navy is using (different from the corn-based biofuel we’ve eviscerated in the past) will become as familiar to the US consumer as smartphone-based GPS- and Internet-enabled navigational functions. And there are still questions about biofuel’s effect on engines. We’ll be watching to see if this is more than just a green unicorn hunt.

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