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Recap: SD-CAP 2011 - ”Fueling the Navy of Tomorrow – Moving Away from Petroleum" (Keynote) presented by General Kamin

Recently, NPR radio was talking about a plan of how the military plan might become more sustainable and made the point that the plan was still nebulous apart from some general goals. This reminded me that I still wanted to summarize some of the talks from the SD-CAP 2011 meeting I went to earlier this year.

The first talk came from the keynote speaker, General Kamin, who was talking about the NAVI’s efforts on reducing the dependence on foreign oil within the NAVI.
He started by pointing out that with a large amount of submarines, operational aircraft, and troops, the NAVI is very energy dependent – most of which comes from petroleum. To put things in perspective, the NAVI uses 25% of all the energy within the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense itself uses 93% of all the energy the government is using.

Because the price for energy was low historically, efficiency has not been an issue until now. General Kamin went on to highlight that the Navi has increased its budget for fuel from $ 1 billion to $ 5 billion largely due to price increases, and notes that when prices increase in such an unexpected way, money spent on fuels cannot be used for other important issues such as maintenance, and troop security. The trends of increasing oil prices will only continue in the future. Furthermore, protection of energy transporters is also costly and dangerous for the troops protecting these convoys. Thus, he concludes, it is a national security interest to find alternatives to oil.

General Kamin shared that within the Navy there is a transition in thought going on: Energy is no longer considered a commodity but a precious strategic resource. So as part of the Navy’s energy vision, it is seeking to reduce petroleum use by 50% which is approximately equal to 8 million barrels by 2020.
To do so, the Navy is both seeking to reduce fuel consumption, and also increase the use of biofuels. He illustrated a few examples of prototype projects that reflect the will of the Navy to implement these changes, among them a prototype fleet of hybrid boats, and other hybrid vehicles, as well as a prototype fleet that is experimenting with the use of algal fuel sources.

General Kamin then outlined more technical requirements and the beaurocratic process of steps biofuel providers must go through to get their fuel certified by the NAVI so that the NAVI can start sourcing them.
Whether these prototypes that the general talked about or not reflect a unified strategy to move the military of fossil fuels is substantial or not in real terms, I think it is significant to note that the fact that generals are publicly talking about such issues reflects a change in attitude of what fossil fuels mean for the future of the military. Whether one agrees on global warming or not, whether one agrees on the economic validity of sustainability or not, it is interesting to observe that the military came to the same conclusion that getting of the addiction to fossil fuels is something that needs to be addressed by thinking in terms of long-term safety of our nation. 

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