Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Energy Security Reading List for 2008

Howdy all. I haven't even had my first sip of eggnog as I've found myself knee deep (or more accurately, up to my neck) in research for a forthcoming white paper on fully aligning the Pentagon with the incoming administration on energy security. Here are a few additional docs I've stumbled upon in the process ... all from 2008 and all of which are worth a read if you can spare a few minutes:
Good luck with this assignment. I'll see you on the other side of New Years Day.   

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Air Force

My guess is it's going to take a few billion R&D dollars pumped into Lockheed and Boeing before their first Santa-less flight, but these guys may be the renewable solution the Air Force has been seeking. Not for fighters of course, but maybe for transport. 

The DOD Energy Blogger is going to take a few days off to recharge, and will be back, raring to go, with a new post on the first Monday after Christmas. Happy Holidays All !!!

Reindeer Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 22, 2008

Better Batteries Brewing at Argonne

Energy security takes many forms. In this case, a disparate group of small US researchers and would-be manufacturing co's are banding together to build a better battery. The site they've chosen is the Argonne National Lab in Illinois, a huge DOE facility famous for its role in the Manhattan Project. This excerpt from last week's press release says it all:
Lithium ion batteries are anticipated to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles. Today, United States automobile manufacturers and defense contractors depend upon foreign suppliers — increasingly concentrated in Asia — for lithium ion battery cells.
I wish these guys a lot of luck for several reasons. The full release is here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The World According to Oil

Here's another post coming out of the recent NDU Admiral Moorer Military Energy Conference. This is a different way of looking at the world, wouln't you say? And it's worthwhile noting that while 85% of reserves were available to the major International Oil Companies (IOCs like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, etc.) as recently as the 1970's, widespread nationalization of oil assets since that time now means the IOCs are left to fight over less than 10% of the world's oil.

All that to say, next time gas prices go up, you can blame the big oil co's you're familiar with, but they will not be the primary cause of the pain. Not by a long shot. In fact, other than Saudi Aramco, they are the only orgs with the technology to get increasingly hard-to-reach oil out of the ground. Without them having access, a lot of that oil is going to remain right where it is.

Map Courtesy of US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oil's Volativity Knife Cuts Both Ways

After thrashing the big oil-consuming economies on the march, and final leap, to nearly $150 this summer, oil's drop below $60 ... $50 ... $40 in late 2008 is scaring the dickens out of the largest oil-selling nations. This includes the OPEC cartel countries and other less-than-friendly places like Russia, Iran and Venezuela, who approved mega projects and payrolls under the assumption that expensive oil was here to stay. Now they're looking into the abyss as the global economic downturn settles in. 

Here's one account of the impact on "let's use energy as a weapon" Russia. Now the gun is pointing right at the heart of its fragile economy, and it's putting the Putin government under increasing pressure. Beyond fossil fuels it has few other wares to sell, excepting tanks and vodka. And, at home anyway, vodka sales are tanking.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

JCTD + PSFT = Energy Efficiency Home Runs

JCTD = Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. PSTF = Power Surity Task Force. Follow this link to one of the best energy efficiency presentations I've seen lately. Deals with tents at forward operating bases (FOBs) as well as CONUS structures. One of the slides breaks it out like this:

Old School Approach
  • Four 300Kw generators for ten un-insulated tents
  • Total of 1.2MW, or an average of 120Kw per tent
  • Was not enough, so two more 300Kw generators brought in for a total of 1.8MW, or an average of 180 Kw per tent
PSFT Approach
  • Foam-insulated tent with permanent HVAC requires a 30Kw generator
  • 75% - 83% reduction in the generator size
  • Straight-line projection (approx 75% - 83% ) fuel savings
By retired Army Colonel Dan Nolan, founder of Sabot 6, it's about action, not talk. Action that's recently been taken, is happening right now, and will be happening shortly,that will save the DOD time, money, and most importantly, the lives of its most valuable resource of all: the troops.

Photo: USA Today

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oil News from the Advanced Naval Propulsion Symposium 2008

Morning update: on further reflection, what is said below for the Navy would of course hold true for the other services. Aircraft and heavy ground vehicle engineers, when asked to comment on what future fuels will propel their vehicles for the next 1/2 century, are in the exact same position. Looking out from 2008, there is simply no viable substitute for oil on the horizon.

As reported in today's DefenseNews, one summary quote from this conference on this one says it all:
The surface U.S. Navy will remain dependent on fossil fuels for at least the next 40 to 50 years.
That's what the engineers said. And barring enormous, unexpected innovations in ship propulsion, it's probably a conservative estimate. But still, it's kind of spooky. Today's $40 oil may make it seem like a benign forecast, but the ripple effects of low oil prices make it clear that the next economic cycle will witness global economies competing for far less oil than was available when prices spiked this summer. The implications for future prices are sobering.

That means a responsible Navy, knowing it's going to need oil for another half a century, would either begin hoarding money for future purchases at much higher prices, or hoarding low priced oil in a Naval equivalent of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But as neither of these will likely come to pass, the Navy should work as hard as it can to prove the symposium's prediction wrong, no matter how difficult that challenge may appear today.

Photo: US Navy

Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama & Energy Security

One thing you can say about Obama: he's consistent. He's chosen a confidence-inspiring financial team, and now he's done it again with his energy and environment team. It began with his placement of energy-hawk General Jim Jones as National Security Advisor and then continued with these announcements: Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Carol Browner as Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and Lisa Jackson as EPA Chief.

But actually, it began a long time ago, long before it became clear this man had a realistic chance to become President. In early 2006, almost 3 years ago, US Senator Obama gave a speech titled "Energy Security is National Security". His remarks followed right on the heals of President Bush's seemingly bold State of the Union pledge to move the US away from oil dependency, and he points to Bush's immediate (and humiliating) kowtow to OPEC when the Saudis expressed concern about his enthusiasm for alternative energy. Obama says this behavior is symptomatic of the US vulnerability. He said, "All we really need to know about the danger of our oil addiction comes directly from the mouths of our enemies:
"Oil is the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community." These are the words of Al Qaeda. 

"Focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause them to die off." These are the words Osama bin Laden. 
More than anyone else who's ascended to our highest office, Obama understands that energy is a national security issue, that "the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the oil we cannot live without." This man will soon be the Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, and I for one am eager to see how the DOD responds to real energy leadership.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Navy Energy Security Quote for Monday

Aided by powerful computers, the best minds of our day can predict neither financial collapse, IEDs nor pirate resurgences a mere 12 months out, yet the "Father of the Nuclear Navy", Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover, saw the energy future quite clearly from his vantage over 60 years ago:
Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.
Hmm, whether the Admiral was thinking about the US in general, or our military in particular, it's obvious that the DOD's energy policy (until just recently) was not unlike the selfish and irresponsible parent. Only with the advent of the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) and the Energy Efficiency KPP (EEKPP) do we see a glimmer of a responsible impulse re: energy management. And it remains to be seen whether these more responsible, forward looking thoughts will translate into responsible, energy-security enhancing actions. 

Here's Rickover's longer statement from 1957 from which the excerpt was taken. Thanks to the Honorable David Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, for citing Rickover during his presentation at last week's Moorer Military Energy Security Forum at NDU.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Defense President Nails It

Lawrence Farrell has written on energy before, but never better than just now in the December edition of National Defense Magazine. Farrell, a former 3 star USAF general (a Zoomie, I might add) and President of NDIA's National Defense, makes a powerful and succinct case that the DOD needs to get off oil post haste. And not just because some of it comes from messed up or outright hostile countries, meaning it's unreliable and purchase of it funds corrupt regimes and terror networks. 

No, all of those solid reasons have never been nearly enough to change DOD behavior. Farrell begins, "When it comes to military energy priorities, we must get beyond the traditional cost-benefit analysis that inevitably is tied to the price of oil." He points out that insulating tents yields huge financial savings, but follows that with the fact that it also takes 13 tanker trucks off the road every day. See, it's not the oil money, it's the logistical burden inherent in reliance on oil that's the killer, literally and figuratively. According to Farrell, 
Seventy percent of the convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan are for fuel and water. These convoys are at risk from roadside bombs and snipers. Just moving fuel entails great danger to US troops.... If we could cut the amount of convoys in half, the logistics tail would be significantly reduced. The result would be drastic improvements in the ratio of shooters-to-support personnel.  
You hear that Hoss? More teeth, less tail. As it turns out, in-theatre DOD energy security is largely independent of where oil comes from or how much it costs per barrel on any given day. Farrell concludes:
The problem with [current DOD energy strategy] is that it dictates a halt in the development of alternative technologies as soon as the price of oil falls.... This inevitable knee-jerk response to [oil price fluctuations] has got to go.
I'll keep beating my drum. This is why rapid departmental adoption of the Energy Efficiency Key Performance Parameter (KPP) is a must. Related to (but untethered from) life cycle expenditures, it better accounts for the most important costs of future systems and forces.

Iraq supply convoy photo: @ Flickr

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SECDEF Gates on "Reprogramming the DOD"

Recently it was announced that Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, appointed by President Bush as the replacement to Donald Rumsfeld, would stay on for some period to provide continuity for the Obama administration.

In an upcoming edition of Foreign Affairs journal, Gates has penned an article titled "A Balanced Strategy:  Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age".  And though energy issues are not discussed directly in the piece, Gates' vision for what the department needs to work on provides a contextual framework for energy security decisions in the coming years. His argument for balance is comprised of three main components:

"Between trying to prevail in current conflicts and preparing for other contingencies"

"Between institutionalizing capabilities such as counterinsurgency and foreign military assistance and maintaining the United States' existing conventional and strategic technological edge against other military forces", and ...

"Between retaining those cultural traits that have made the U.S. armed forces successful and shedding those that hamper their ability to do what needs to be done”

Clearly, the lack of energy efficiency as a KPP in systems requirements formulation fits best in Gates’ category 3: a trait that has hampered our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will continue to impair our capabilities in other theaters if not addressed. Ultimately, the DOD's acknowledgement in NDAA 2009 that energy issues are a major factor in systems requirements, operational effectiveness and budgeting will color each of Gates' three "balance" components. In some cases energy will limit us; in others it will present new opportunities for the US to gain the advantage. But either way, it is here to stay as a permanent part of the way we determine our priorities and options in armed conflict, and in the way DOD prepares for its next big assignments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Admiral Moorer Forum @ NDU - Drinking Straight from the Energy Security Firehose

This job just keeps getting better and better. I was fortunate enough to be invited and represent the blogosphere at the 3rd Annual Admiral Thomas H. Moorer Military Energy Security Forum held today at the National Defense University in Washington. The conference organizers broadened the scope this year to give more attention to technology and include some stakeholders from outside DOD. Speakers included senior DOD leaders involved in the formulation and implementation of the Department's energy strategy, as well as executives from oil co's, renewable energy co's, and energy security thought leaders from academia and other Federal agencies. 

I also got to meet for the first time, face-to-face, many of the folks whose excellent work I've been calling out on this blog since its inception. I have some fantastic information to impart in subsequent posts. This one is intended to serve as your heads-up.

Photo: NDU Marshall Hall

Monday, December 8, 2008

IBM: Green as Google?

Attended my first DC Energy Conversation tonight in person, and it was well worth the wait. The featured presentation was given by IBM Managing Director Todd Ramsey and outlined several key sectors in which IBM is bringing creative thought leadership to energy issues related to the government and commercial sectors. Topics included:
  • Data center efficiency (Project Big Green), including a new state-of-the-art facility in Boulder, CO (picture above)
  • Smart workforce management (increasing use of remote workers via online collaboration tools)
  • Intelligent transportation systems (to reduce congestion induced fuel waste)
  • Smart utility grid (adding intelligence to the grid reaps big energy savings)
Of these, Ramsey positioned data center efficiency projects as the real low hanging fruit opportunities from which many US companies could immediately reap substantial savings. In his experience, 40% savings were typical with 100% ROI achievable within 2 years. 

I also liked his slide showing that while IT operations are responsible for 2% of global energy consumption, IT efficiency solutions can bring substantial savings to the other 98%. For more info on IBM's energy efficiency and environmental initiatives go to:

I have to admit when the talk was over, I had to tell Mr. Ramsey that IBM's energy initiatives made the famously conservative company seem a lot hipper than I remember. In energy innovation, I'd say IBM is definitely giving Google a run for its money.

Photo: IBM

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Natural Gas Cartel Forming?

Having an OPEC for oil is bad enough. Now, some of the primary suppliers are looking to set up the same type of system in an attempt to control the price of natural gas. Russia and Iran are doing their best to keep prices high, but so far they are being overpowered by the current global economic crisis which is driving the cost of all commodities straight down, including energy. 

And in addition to the weak economy putting pressure on gas prices, news keeps coming that the US' own supply of natural gas is stronger than expected. Poor belligerent, anti-US energy suppliers ... sometimes they just can't catch a break. :(

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lovins on DOD Energy (Part II)

OK, now that the previous post gave a skeleton outline of Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) founder and energy visionary since the 1970's, I'll drill down a bit more on Tuesday night's conversation in Cambridge. Here are a couple of the more pointed comments I captured that night:
  • Lovins said DOD is setting the pace for the nation on energy efficiency and emissions reduction. In particular, it's embracing the concepts of negawatts and neg-emissions so troops have greater flexibility and face less exposure to hostile fire while protecting fuel in transit
  • Speaking of which, he noted that DOD uses 70% of its total fuel resources on moving people, equipment ... and fuel
  • He remarked that DOD used to think of price of fuel delivery was free. Since April of this year, and the NDAA 2009 (both well documented on this blog) however, the FBCF and its energy KPPs will ensure that Prime DOD contractors will be competing to see who can bring the most energy efficient solutions. And he predicted that those efficiency technologies and strategies will find their way into the commercial sector as have so many other groundbreaking military technologies before them
  • When the moderator, Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners asked him about the effects on certain world leaders of today's lower oil prices, as well as in the future envisioned by Lovins, Lovins replied that folks like Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez and the Saudi's "would have to get real jobs." Much laughter ensued.
  • Lovins passed around an ultra light, ultra strong carbon fiber ballistic helmet intended for military use, and noted similar materials used for auto bodies will be game changers, allowing cars to lose half their weight. Said to check out the Toyota 1X
  • When asked about Obama, Lovins said he was already exerting strong energy leadership and stressed that this was going to be very helpful. And then he said Obama is going to have to restructure/repurpose the DOE
  • The last thing I got to ask him was what fuel did he think would power USAF planes 10-20 years from now. At first he mentioned liquid hydrogen, but didn't seem too sure about its military utility. And then he moved on to saying maybe it'll be what we use today: JP8 from traditional sources. But suggested that if the DOD and the nation continue on the energy efficiency course on which they've embarked, it won't cost much as it will be in less demand. 
Here's hoping he's right on that. All that. He's been nothing but right so far.

Photo: RMI HQ in Snowmass, CO

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lovins on DOD Energy (Part I)

Had the great good fortune to hear pioneering energy thinker Amory Lovins speak to a small group of VCs and entrepreneurs in Cambridge, MA last night at an event hosted by innovation aggregator Xconomy. And even had a chance for a little one-on-one conversation afterwards. A number of good DOD related topics emerged, so I'm going to make this a 2-part post.

Here's some background info on Lovins for those of you not already familiar with his work:
  • Author of seminal 1976 article appearing in Foreign Affairs: Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?
  • In 1982, founded the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in Snowmass, CO
  • Author of Winning the Oil Endgame - essential reading published in 2005
  • Served on the DSB Energy Task Force that published my favorite DOD energy report in Feb 2008 (see link in sidebar). Said overall it's a quality piece of work, though he would have emphasized some aspects more ... like the massive endurance benefits DOD gets via efficiency improvements
Last night, with < $50 barrel oil casting a shadow over entrepreneurs and investors who had a much easier time proving the value of their solutions when oil was $147, Lovins said he believes energy will remain at the forefront of DOD and National strategy thinking, even as fuel prices have fallen. This time, with climate change and energy security now both big parts of the equation, there will be little let-up in our pursuit for better energy ideas ... and for making oil a less-than-strategic commodity. To be continued ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Energy Security & the New National Security Advisor

As noted previously in this blog, Marines often seem more inclined than members of the other 3 service branches to think about energy security in crystal clear, no BS ways. President Obama's new National Security Advisor (NSA), picked to replace the outgoing NSA Stephen Hadley, is retired Marine Corps General James Jones, Jr. Jones, who once worked for John McCain as the Marine liaison to the US Senate, has had a distinguished military career. He is also remarkable for some of the post-retirement positions he's held:
  • Member of the Board of Directors: Chevron
  • Member of the Board of Directors: Boeing
  • President of Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
While much of his uniformed work and experience might point to greater affinity with the Republican party, Jones and Obama have at least two things in common. One is a mutual appreciation for the game of basketball. The other is a shared belief of the centrality of a solid energy policy to national security. Introducing his nominee yesterday, the President elect said:
Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and national security and has worked on the front lines of global instability, from Kosovo to northern Iraq to Afghanistan.
Jones seems to be the first National Security Advisor with interest and experience in energy issues. If you want to see the message he's been espousing while at the Center for 21st Century Energy, click here.

Photo: Voice of America

Monday, December 1, 2008

Essential Knowledge: Jet Fuel and other Hydrocarbons

Yesterday I posted on Carbon Sciences' approach for turning CO2 into useful fuels, including jet fuel. While I was on their site, I noticed some good, nuts-and-bolts details I missed when I passed up Organic Chemistry in college: "The fuels we use today, such as gasoline and jet fuel, are made up of chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms aptly called hydrocarbons." Duh. On low end of the scale, you've got molecules (familiar gases) with only a few carbon atoms:
  • C1 (one carbon atom fuel - methane)
  • C2 (two carbon atom fuel - ethane) 
  • C3 (three carbon atom fuel - propane)
Banging more carbon atoms into these molecules gets you more energetic fuels:
  • C7-C10 (gasoline) 
  • C10-C16 (jet fuel/JP8)
And when the carbon combines with air during combustion, you get a C02 molecule for every carbon atom ... hence the problem with fossil fuel emissions ... and the potential of Carbon Sciences' approach.

Photo of F-22 inflight refueling: DOE EERE