Thursday, October 30, 2008

Boeing Going to Biofuels Within 3 Years

It's hard to separate truth from fiction on this one, but apparently: 
Biofuel-powered aircraft could be carrying millions of passengers around the world within three years, according to Boeing. Darrin Morgan, an environmental expert at the US jet manufacturer, said the group was expecting official approval of biofuel use in the near future. "The certification will happen much sooner than anybody thought," he said. "We are thinking that within three to five years we are going to see approval for commercial use of biofuels - and possibly sooner."
Seems similar to the the Air Force's recent certification activities across the entire USAF inventory approving its planes to fly on blended JP8 and synth fuels derived from coal and other sources. As the article points out, the trick for Boeing, Lockheed, EADS and the rest of the aircraft manufacturing and operating ecosystem is not about finding fuels that work with existing engines - they do. It's about making the new fuels, economically and in volomes that might begin to make a difference. So far, they don't.

Photo courtesy of Boeing

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

AF Amping Up on UAV pilots

Based on a recent article culled from, this post falls into the brainteaser category. I don't know whether the advent and widespread adoption of UAVs is going to be a net positive or net negative from a fuel usage point of view, but I do know the answer will have a big impact on DOD planning and budgeting activities. I've looked around and can't find any published research which maps out typical fuel consumption rates of manned aircraft used to perform similar surveillance (and occasional air-to-ground) missions. You'd think someone in SAF/AQ would be working on this, and if they didn't do it on their own initiative, that somebody else at OSD would be hammering on them for this type of info. 

Secretary Gates has demonstrated more than once his disatisfaction with USAF's pace of innovation and ability to change:
The urgent push for more drone pilots has been spurred by blunt demands from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He has criticized the Air Force's failure to move more quickly to meet war commanders' needs. And he set up a task force in April to find more innovative ways to get the aircraft to the battlefield more quickly.
If they were simply a one-to-one replacement for manned aircraft, as many pilots feared, it might be simpler. But as with many new technologies, UAVs unique attributes mean they can deliver 24x7 capabilities commanders never even dreamed of having until recently ... and suddenly deam essential:
A senior Air Force officer told The Associated Press that by the end of September 2011, the goal is to have 50 unmanned combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day, largely over Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently there are 30.
So the AF is coming up with entirely new programs for cranking out UAVs and UAV pilots in large batches:
To generate the pilots for the increased flights, the Air Force hopes to create separate pilot pipelines for its manned and unmanned aircraft, said Col. Curt Sheldon, assistant to the director of air operations for unmanned aircraft issues.
Clearly, though, even with these new programs, it's not going to be nearly enough to satisfy demand:
I don't know that you could ever get (a drone) to everybody who wants one," Sheldon said. "I believe it is virtually insatiable. We are pedaling fast, we are working hard to meet that need."
We sure do live in interesting times, don't we?

USAF Photo of MQ-1 Predators, Tallil AB, Iraq by James Gordon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Event Announcement: Army Energy Security Forum

You may have been encouraged to learn just how proactive the Army is being with Energy Security from this post a couple of days ago. If you want to build on that and learn in person what the Army is up to in energy, across the board, I recommend you get to the registration site pronto. It's cheap for regular folks ($150) but open to government folks by invite only.

Date: Nov 17 (one day session)
Location: Landsdowne Resort, Landsdowne VA 
Working Groups on:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
  • Nuclear
  • Conventional Fuels
  • Investment and Contracting
  • Regulations and Laws and Policies
  • Grids (includes microgrids, mini grids, etc.)
  • Improving Vehicle Fuel Efficiency through Management and Technology
  • New Technologies for Energy Efficiency/Demand Reduction
I'd like to be there, but will be getting ready for the 4th Annual Conference on Clean Energy in Boston. But for those of you who can make it to Landsdowne: Go and get smart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fuel Cost Volatility Tortuous for DOD Planning

Lately I've had a couple of folks say to me that with the cost of oil down to $60 a barrel and Gulf gas pumping at $2.60 in Boston, it looks like the oil-energy troubles are over, and that renewables are screwed. Well, while I'm just as happy as anyone now filling up his tank and getting change back from a $50, my daily exposure to DOD issues tells me that this energy story doesn't end quite so neatly.

Perhaps even more than this summer's high fuel costs which slammed DOD budgets, it's the uncertainty about the future price that's the killer. If you were mapping out the cost of fuel at FOBs for the Army or Marine Units in Afghanistan for the next 3 years, what number would you use as a placeholder price-per-gallon? I'm not even talking about the fully burdened price ... I just mean the price for a gallon of DF2 diesel. Good luck with that.

In Thomas Friedman's latest book Hot, Flat & Crowded, Friedman takes David Edwards' perfect distillation of the situation "Uncertainly Costs Money" and runs with it:
It is now the fossil fuels that have increasingly uncertain prices attached to them (and prices that are trending upward), and it is the renewables that have increasingly certain prices attached to them (and prices that are trending downward).
And you can take that to the bank. Strategic take away: the more DOD can factor in reduced fuel consumption via improved fuel efficiency and fuel management practices, and the faster it can supplement and (sometimes replace) fossil fuels with renewables, the sooner this (budget) hostage situation will be over.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reducing Army Fuel Convoys = Saving Soldiers

I wasn't there, so didn't hear the narrative that accompanied this Army Energy Security deck presented earlier in October. But Mr. Paul Bollinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, put together a great presentation that includes a slide that communicates very clearly with numbers. I'm not sure what period it's covering, but "Tactical Fuel Protection & Logistics" speaks pretty plainly all by itself:
  • Kuwait Fuel to FOB: 431 millions of gallons
  • Fuel trucks needed: 140,075
  • Convoys needed: 9,332
  • Soldiers per convoy trip (Fuel trucks, protection, other support): 120
  • Soldier trips: 644,360
  • Each 1% Fuel Savings: 6,444 Fewer Soldier trips (my italics)
Remember, each of these trips puts our soldiers in harm's way and keeps them out of other roles where they might be, well, more "proactive" with adversaries. So it's not a stretch to say that reducing demand for fuel at the FOBs (via process changes and/or energy efficiency improvements) is directly correlated with saving soldiers' lives.

Switching gears from tactical fuel issues to installations, slides 13 - 17 are also good and show hypothetical Army deployment locations for solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass. Sure it's just a Powerpoint dec, but it certainly gives the impression that Bollinger and his staff are thinking through the energy security issue and generating plans to turn things around.

Photo Courtesy of Dan at

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smart Grid 2.0

This may be more than you want to know about what's being done to bring our electrical grid out of the stone age, but I'm optimistic that some will give it a shot. Rob Day at @Ventures and Greentech Media lays out the current and evolving state of grid automation tech on the demand and supply sides. Will these developments make DOD bases' dependency on the brittle grid less of a problem in the short term? No. The mid term, then? I don't think so. 

But when enough glitches occur to generate some some serious money and national will, thanks to Day and some of the co's he calls out, it appears the technology will be more than ready to re-build it right. So DOD, keep one eye on developments that could make the grid more reliable in the future, but please keep the pedal to the metal on the NDAA 2009, Section 335 "Mitigation of Power Outage Risks for DOD Facilities and Activities" activities just getting started (see post from earlier this week).  

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Innovator's Hell: Frontline's "Heat" Burns Fossil Energy Co's

Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen's seminal 1997 book: The Innovator's Dilemma demonstrated how large successful companies, ever mindful of being responsive to their best customers' needs, can sometimes be taken down by disruptive technologies that re-order the dynamics of the certain market segments. And shows that this happens right in front of the large co's eyes because they simply cannot make themselves retire business models that have worked so well for so many years.  

Enter PBS's Frontline special aired last night: "Heat," and its visually stunning treatment of environmental carnage wreaked by the world's largest coal, oil and automotive companies, including AEP, ExxonMobile and GM, with obedient US politicians in their pockets. One thing is clear: there's no innovation happening in these companies that doesn't involve improving yields from their core lines of business. When asked about renewable energy tech or other innovations to help reduce CO2 emissions or improve energy efficiency, robotic VPs of PR utter canned greenwashed statements that communicate only disdain for having to respond to these questions at all.

It's safe to say that the game-changing tech breakthroughs that are going to markedly improve the energy posture of the DOD are not going to come from these lumbering dinosaurs, but rather from innovators and nimble new co's working towards entirely different goals with entirely different assumptions. Because of its size and culture of innovation, DOD has a big say in whether this happens sooner or later ... or too late.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Day Oil Loses its Strategic Value: Geopolitical Preview

That day isn't today, but it's worth shooting for. With the price of oil falling as fast as it rose to its near $150/barrel max 3 months ago, and the fortunes of 3 US adversaries going down (for the moment) with it, Jim Woolsey's comments on salt are worth reading. I heard him do this piece at an MIT debate a few weeks ago, but this excerpt is from NRO last year:
Not long ago, technology broke the power of another strategic commodity. Until around the end of the nineteenth century salt had such a position because it was the only means of preserving meat. Odd as it seems today, salt mines conferred national power and wars were even fought over control of them. Today, no nation sways history because it has salt mines. Salt is still a useful commodity for a range of purposes. We import some salt, so if one defines independence as autarky we are not “salt independent”. But to most of us there is no “salt dependence” problem at all — because electricity and refrigeration decisively ended salt’s monopoly of meat preservation, and thus its strategic importance.
Unfortunately, oil prices are not dropping today because newer forms of energy have replaced it, but rather because the global economy is taking two steps back. Some are celebrating, but on a DOD Round Table telecon yesterday, DDR&E's Mindy Montgomery noted it's not just high energy prices that cause problems, but also the havoc extreme price volatility plays with the DOD budgeting process. Who reading this post in Oct 2008 would care to predict the price of a barrel of oil this time next year? What if your job/military/country depended on it? The sooner folks like Ms. Montgomery, OSD and the rest of DOD help new energy technology turn oil into salt, the better off we'll be.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A 2nd Energy Security Gem in NDAA 2009

As called out in the DSB Task Force Report on Energy Feb 2008, and discussed on the DOD Energy Blog several times already including here, DOD bases' near total reliance on the electrical grid has been considered a major vulnerability for years. Only problem: leadership has done almost nothing to address it ... until now.

The just-signed NDAA 2009 has a Section 335 titled "Mitigation of Power Outage Risks for DOD Facilities and Activities." Here's a part of the language:
The Secretary of Defense shall conduct a comprehensive technical and operational risk assessment of the risks posed to mission critical installations, facilities, and activitiesof the Department of Defense by extended power outages resulting from failure of the commercial electricity supply or grid and related infrastructure.
And it goes on to say SECDEF will then try to figure out ways to mitigate (i.e., deal with) the risks ID'd above in a prioritized manner. As I said at the end of yesterday's post on the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF), I'll be taking an action item to track DOD's progress in making good on this pledge. 

DOD sure does have a lot on its energy plate these days. But that's a heck of a lot better than just a few years ago, when strategic energy issues weren't even on the menu.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DOD Gets Real with the True Cost of Fuel in 2009

I just got a heads-up from a new friend at the DC Energy Consensus regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2009.  You can read this for yourself in: Section 2925, DOD energy management, SEC. 332. CONSIDERATION OF FUEL LOGISTICS SUPPORT REQUIREMENTS IN PLANNING, REQUIREMENTS DEVELOPMENT, AND ACQUISITION PROCESSES.

But here's the take away: a few days ago President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and this time it included something new and special from a DOD Energy point of view: it included language to force program managers and other leaders to consider the true costs of fuel in all new procurements.  Although you may not believe it, they have never done this before. 

The term of art is the fully-burdened cost of fuel, or FBCF, and it is to become a programmatic Key Performance Parameter (KPP) from this point forward. Actually, you're probably better off going here first: see Chris DiPetto, DUSD Acquisition & Technology, recent Powerpoint on "DOD Energy Demand" and the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF). I liked and took a couple of DiPetto's statements right off the page, including:
  • DoD Planning Processes Undervalue Fuel And Its Delivery Costs and DoD Business Practices and Culture Disincentivize Strategic Investment
  • FBCF is a force planning variable
  • FBCF is an input to requirements and the acquisition process
  • FBCF is a denominator for metrics
  • FBCF is a facilitator for portfolio analysis
  • FBCF is a composite of capability and cost
There's a lot more to say on this, and I'll plan to come back to FBCF 2009 shortly.  In particular, will be looking at how comprehensively and how quickly it's really being implemented.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Be There or Be Square: Military Energy & Fuels Conference Next Week

A friend of mine from Draper Labs in Cambridge just mailed me the brochure for this. I realize this is short notice if you haven't heard of it yet, but it appears an excellent DOD Energy conference is slated for next week in Las Vegas on Oct 23-24. Perhaps you were going to be there anyway to catch up on some reading? I definitely recognize a number of participating panelists from the oft-cited DSB Energy Task Force, including: 
  • Mr. Wayne Arny - Deputy Under Secretary, Installations and Environment, USD/AT
  • Mr. Chris DiPetto - Deputy Director, Systems and Software Engineering, OUSD/AT
  • Mr. Don Juhasz - Chief, Army Energy and Utility Programs, ACSIM
  • Mr. Dan Mathis - Deputy Division Head, Mission Assurance, NSWC
  • Ms. Pamela Serino - Chief, Product Technology and Standardization, DESC/DLA
I would go if I could, but I probably won't be there.  For everyone's sake, hopefully in this case, what happens in Vegas re: DOD Energy won't stay in Vegas.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sullivan @

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SkyBuilt Mobile Power, Base Grid Dependency and the Brittle Grid

If you've read this blog a few times during its relatively short existence, you may have noticed I keep coming back to the Feb 2008, Defense Science Board Task Force report on Energy and the DOD. One of the two main problems the task force calls out had to do with energy security related to the enormous amount of fuel DOD needs to operate. The other has to do with how totally dependent DOD bases are on getting electricity from the grid. According to DOD and DOE senior leaders I've had a chance to talk with recently, solving both of these problems is considered absolutely critical.

Yet while work to address fuel dependency gets lots of press, working to free bases of their over reliance on the brittle (i.e. unreliable) grid, if it's happening, is less visible. Last week while discussing the STAR-TIDES program that includes mobile and often renewable sources of power, Dr. Linton Wells, Distinguished Research Fellow and Force Transformation Chair at NDU,  said In-Q-Tel-backed SkyBuilt could possibly play a helpful role. Check out their site and see whether you think their technologies could scale to the levels needed to keep an operational base operational in a time of natural disaster or terrorism.

Photo courtesy of SkyBuilt Power

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fuel Cells are the Wearable Winners

You gotta like the way DOD is ferreting out game-changing new energy tech these days. Read about who just won the million dollar prize for lightweight, mobile power sources for soldiers here. Details of the competition were listed on The DOD Energy Blog last week in this post.  Turns out fuel cells were the way to go ... if only you had known !!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

True Pentagon Energy Leadership ... or Base-by-Base Initiative?

In yesterday's post I highlighted some of the findings of a recent IEEE paper on current and coming alt energy deployments in DOD. What I didn't get a chance to point out was the paper's mixed message on leadership. On one hand, IDA consultant Thomas Morehouse was quoted as saying that recent regulation has had little bearing on DOD energy actions:
"There is no energy policy. There is no coordinated Defense Department program for renewable energy deployment and no single office in the Pentagon that tracks it ... The projects so far happened largely because ... a particular base commander somewhere [is] enthusiastic about doing this and puts in the effort to make it happen."
On the other hand, the author paraphrases Commander Brad Hancock, DOD Assoc Dir for Energy and Utilities, as saying the military is "more than on track" to reach its 2025 goals.

From what I can tell, whether or not it is organizing as formally as it should to get this work done, the combination of light regulatory guidance supported by some leadership at the top, is helping. Combined with the initiative of numerous base and mission support group commanders who want to see their bases (and the DOD in general) do better in the age of massive energy uncertainty, and who work within extremely tight budgets, it appears the DOD is moving in the right direction. And hopefully, at the right speed.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

DOD Renewables Deployment Update

IEEE provides a nice round-up of current and near-future DOD renewables deployments.  At 11.9% today, DOD is working overtime to reach its goal of 25% renewable power by 2025. Here's a few of them for you (I've listed capacities when provided):
  • 270 MWs of geothermal @ China Lake, California (now) 
  • 14 MWs of solar @ Nellis AFB, Nevada (now)
  • 3.8 MWs of wind @ Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (now)
  • 30 MWs of geothermal @ Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada (coming)
  • Geothermal @ Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada (coming)
  • Wind @ Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas (coming)
  • 8+ MWs of solar, biomass, geothermal @ McGuire AFB, New Jersey (coming)
  • Solar and wind @ Fort Huachuca, Arizona (now)
  • Solar @ Fort Drum, New York (now)
Lots of activity, lots of opportunity. In the face of tremendous budget pressures, renewables projects have to pay for themselves, and quickly. Fortunately, for most of these, when coupled with renewables incentives in certain states, that's exactly what's happening.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

STAR-TIDE's Mobile, Sustainable Power Solutions

Inspired in part by RMI's Amory Lovins, this is worth learning about, so please bear with me. Dr. Linton Wells, NDU Transformational Chair and Distinguished Fellow, and former Undersecretary of Defense for NII, briefed a small group of bloggers on Wednesday about an ambitious (and ambitiously named) program called STAR-TIDES. I'll spell it out for you. TIDES = Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support. And TIDES is just one small part of a larger intiative called STAR, which = Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research. Besides NDU, other orgs involved on the US side include OSD and JFCOM. And yes there are other sides, because this program isn't just international, it's also cross service, cross agency (e.g., DOD, DHS) and cross cultural.

The energy aspect comes into play in its capacity to deploy in a variety of often-sustainable (e.g., solar, wind) mobile power configurations (small, medium, large) into stressed environments to help out folks in need. I'll be posting on this again, but for more info now please see the program's web site here, and if you want something more concrete, visit Fort McNair today or the Pentagon courtyard next week, where demonstration units on display. Key mobile power participants include Solar Stik and SkyBuilt Power.

Photo courtesy of Solar Stik

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Elegant HVAC Retrofit Solution Could Save Bases and FOBs Tons of Energy

Here's a new company - PaceControls - I recently spoke with who have something DOD could use to save 10 - 25% on heating and cooling bills across the board. And yet they haven't spent much time approaching the military with their solutions because trying to find the right DOD doors to knock on can be a harrowing experience, especially when there are other more accessible clients. Candidate programs that come to mind are the Army RDECOM's HI-Power, OSD & JFCOM's STAR-TIDES, and every DOD base charged with reducing its energy consumption each year (uh, that would be all of them). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Complex New Energy Landscape for DOD R&D

Food for thought: Imagine you're in charge of DARPA or the Office of Naval Research (ONR), or the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) or Army's Research, Development & Engineering Command (RDECOM), and you've been tasked by your service's secretary or the SECDEF to investigate new technologies that can be implemented swiftly to improve DOD's energy posture. Thanks to Greentechmedia for providing a detailed, interactive chart that lets you drill down to examples in each category.

Even with a generous staff of highly competent tech directors and research scientists, do you think you and your team would be able to provide uniformly deep coverage on all of these potentially promising vectors? My point is: these orgs are doing great and important work, and it's incumbent on the rest of the government, industry and academia to give them all the help they can muster.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Russia and Venezuela Teaming on Weapons and Energy

There's no good news here, just bad and ugly. But it pays to know what's going on elsewhere in the world when pondering DOD's next energy steps. Recent reports are that Putin and Chavez are getting very cozy, and formulating agreements on oil for Gazprom in Venezuela and nuclear tech transfer too. For energy purposes only, of course. 

As with a previous post on Russian actions in Georgia, these moves not only affect DOD by potentially altering global energy markets, they also put Venezuela further in the crosshairs of DOD warfighting planners. Russia is pulling our strings because it knows US forces are spread mighty thin, and it's newfound oil and gas wealth is making it feel like a superpower again. This is getting pretty close to home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Air Force "Green"?

As this article from early 2008 shows, the Air Force is kicking butt in renewable energy deployments on its bases, and this is great. But when it comes to its enthusiasm for so-called "Green Fuels", it's not such a clear winner. One of my DOD energy mentors, Dr. Sohbet Karbuz has just published a post where he gives all the different synth fuel players and approaches some time. But it's what he says at the bottom of his post that most closely parallels what I've been getting from the AF to date. He's been covering AF synth fuel work for some time, and has this to say re: the current outlook:
My thoughts on green fuels have not changed: They are expensive, not that green, don't improve USAF mission capability, add extra burden to taxpayers, but are good business for the military-industry complex.
I'm totally in favor of improving the non foreign supply of fuels to US war fighters in general, and the AF in particular. But so much AF activity at present seems almost like busy work. Is there a roadmap available that shows the AF building on what it's learning to deliver truly cleaner, cost competitive fuels on a scale that makes a difference? If so, I'd like to see it.

DOD Photo courtesy of Jim Gordon @ Flickr

Thursday, October 2, 2008

DOE and Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) Awards

Per January 2007's Executive Order 13423, every DOD base is under the gun for reducing its energy costs every year to reach a 30% reduction by 2015. This Ars Technica article describes recent DOE NREL awards for companies making big strides to reach ZEB standards as soon as possible. Solar is called out, and one technology that isn't (urban or building-mounted wind energy) is covered by my friend builder Chris here. Using just the Army's structures for example, if the efficiency of its 50,000 housing units and nearly 1 billion square feet of buildings could be improved just a little, you'd be talking humungous cost savings. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

All the (Electric) Ships at Sea

This National Defense Magazine article from late last year describes the ambitious R&D being conducted by ONR and NAVSEA to substantially improve the way USN ships are powered. According to ONR's John Pazik, the org has created five focus areas for researching advanced naval power for all-electric ships:
  • power generation
  • distribution and control
  • energy storage
  • heat transfer and thermal management
  • motors and actuators
While some of the technologies will be difficult to master (e.g., fuel cells, capacitors, solar power, alternative fuels, etc.) I have no doubt they'll achieve success over time. What I have less confidence about is whether we'll be able to procure them in significant numbers in our lifetimes. Has anyone noticed that our ability to design, buy and build new ships is just about broken? Let's fix that soon, OK? We've got some fuel efficient ships to launch.

Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman