In Helmand province, Afghanistan, marines use solar panels to cut down on fuel use in generators. The more gas the marines save, the less that has to be brought in on dangerous convoys. The military is turning to alternative energy to both improve security and cut costs. Many hope a customer of its size will provide a kick-start to a fledgling industry. But in an era of tightening budgets, investing in more expensive technologies could prove difficult. As part of our Environmental Outlook series we look at the emerging partnership between the military and the renewable energy industry.


  • Coral Davenport Energy and environment correspondent, National Journal.
  • Sharon Burke Assistant secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs
  • Secretary Ray Mabus Secretary of the U.S. Navy
  • Ret. Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn President of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The military is powering ships with fuel derived from algae-running solar-powered generators and flying jets with fuel made from an oilseed plant. The military says cutting down on oil makes our troops safer. But for now those alternative fuel sources are more expensive than traditional ones. The hope is that a customer the size of the military will create demand and drive prices down.

  • 11:07:40

    MS. DIANE REHMAs part of our environmental outlook series, we talk about these efforts. First joining me in the studio is Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, good morning to you sir, thanks for being here.

  • 11:07:58

    SECRETARY RAY MABUSDiane good morning to you, thank you for having me.

  • 11:08:01

    REHMTalk about the scope of the military's interest in renewable energy.

  • 11:08:08

    MABUSWell as you said in that introduction we look at energy as a national security thing. We look at it strategically because we're buying too much energy from too many places that are either potentially or actually volatile. Secondly, we look at it tactically because every convoy of fuel that we take into Afghanistan is costly in a lot of ways. The fuel is very costly. But also for every 50 convoys we lose a Marine, either killed or wounded.

  • 11:08:44

    MABUSYou look at it tactically from, you've got Marines out there that if they carry solar blankets they can power their radios and GPSs instead of lugging pounds and pounds of batteries and having to be resupplied. So we're looking at it all across the Navy and Marine Corps. And our goal, which we're going to meet, is that by no later than 2020 at least half of all our energy both afloat and ashore will come from non-fossil fuel sources.

  • 11:09:17

    REHMBut now give me a comparison of cost between non-fossil fuels and what we're too often using now.

  • 11:09:29

    MABUSWell, I will give you a couple of comparisons. One is in terms of our bases, even though we're a seagoing service and an expeditionary service we have 3.3 million acres of land and 72,500 buildings in the Navy and Marine Corps. We're doing solar there, we're doing wave, we're doing hydrothermal, we're doing geothermal. The payback is pretty quick on those sorts of projects.

  • 11:10:02

    MABUSIn fact over the next five years everything we're doing in energy is going to pay for itself. So that payback is very quick. On the bio-fuels, they are more expensive right now but the more we buy the more that cost comes down. And, for example, last year because just on test amounts that we were buying the price was cut in half, we expect the price to be cut in half again this year on bio-fuels. Now it will still be more expensive than oil and gas is today but we've noticed in the last couple of months, oil and gas, pretty volatile itself in terms of its price.

  • 11:10:47

    MABUSBut we think that if we bring a market, if the U.S. military brings the market, and we do use about 2 percent of all the fossil fuels used in the United States, that's by far the largest single user. That if we establish the market, the price is going to begin to come down.

  • 11:11:08

    MABUSI'll give you one more thing. The president charged the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and Navy to come up with a commercially-viable bio-fuels industry and we're well on the way to doing that. And I think you'll see an announcement relatively soon on that. but commercially-viable means that it's got to be competitive on cost.

  • 11:11:30

    REHMRay Mabus is secretary of the Navy. I must say I would wonder whether you'll be able to persuade the Congress that right now is the time to be spending more money on these alternative fuels even though in the long run they would pay off. Right now the Congress is in such heated negotiations with the administration. How do you see that going?

  • 11:12:07

    MABUSWell, for one thing, doing this makes us better war fighters. That's the main reason we're doing it. Secondly, it's going to save money in terms of getting fuel to Afghanistan for example. And not only is it going to save money, it's going to save the lives of marines, of soldiers, of airmen and sailors. And I think you can show that the more we buy, the more the cost comes down and that if we can do these things inside the current budget then we -- this is an imperative force. This isn't something we need to do because we'd like to do it, but one of the things you do in the military is you look for areas of vulnerability in your enemies or your potential enemies or your potential adversaries and you look for vulnerabilities in yourself.

  • 11:13:03

    MABUSOur biggest vulnerability in the military right now, one of our biggest vulnerabilities is in energy and in how we get it, how we use it.

  • 11:13:12

    REHMTell me about the Green Hornet.

  • 11:13:14

    MABUSThe Green Hornet is an F-18, which is known as the Hornet, that is flying on a mixture of bio-fuels and aviation gas a 50/50 mixture. It's gone 1.7 times the speed of sound. The airplane didn't notice a difference. It's flying on a bio-fuel made of camelina which is a member of the mustard family. It's inedible. You put it in rotation with other crops, because one of the --we have several requirements for bio-fuels. One is that it be a drop-in fuel. We've got the planes, we've got the ships that we're going to have for the next few years and so it's got to just replace oil and gas. You can't have to have new engines or change the engines.

  • 11:14:05

    MABUSSecond is, it shouldn't take any food out of production, because we don't want to have a competition between bio-fuel and food. And third is, it's got to be done in the U.S. because we don't want to trade reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels for reliance on foreign sources of other fuels. And along these lines, right now we've got the largest request for proposals out ever for bio-fuels, 100,000 gallons of aviation gas and 350,000 gallons of maritime bio-fuels.

  • 11:14:49

    MABUSThat translates into 10,700 barrels. That's the biggest RFP that DoD has ever put out and I think it's probably the biggest RFP that's ever been put out. And so as we are creating this market, again, you're going to see prices and you are seeing prices come down pretty dramatically.

  • 11:15:08

    REHMAnd what about solar energy, how widespread?

  • 11:15:12

    MABUSWe are -- right now we have plans for 100 megawatts of solar on our bases. That's enough power to power a city the size of Norfolk, Va. And that's what we've got planned right now. By 2020 we also have a goal that at least half our bases will be net zero. So they will produce at least as much energy as they use. We've got one base right now, China Lake in California that produces more energy than it uses, so it gives energy back to the grid.

  • 11:15:48

    REHMSo you're saying with the defense appropriations that you have right now, you can move forward with this plan without having to draw down because of the cost imbalance?

  • 11:16:07

    MABUSRight. Now, we're doing research and development on things like bio-fuels and they're costing more, but they're in small quantities and it is for R&D. But as you ramp that up to commercial, it has to be competitive in terms of price for us to buy the amounts that we're going to need to buy.

  • 11:16:25

    REHMYou also mentioned the Navy and the Marines. What about the Army? To what extent has it moved in to cooperate?

  • 11:16:37

    MABUSWell, I mean, obviously I think that the Navy and the Marines are out front because I'm the Navy's secretary. But all the services, the Air Force has been a leader in terms of jet fuel for use in its planes. The Army is beginning to do things on its bases and looking at different types of fuels for a lot of its combat vehicles. And defense contractors are also beginning to come forward in terms of putting different types of systems in front of us designed to use less energy.

  • 11:17:18

    MABUSOne of the things that we're looking at in the Navy and one of the things I know that DoD-wide we're beginning to look at, is the use of energy as a factor in our procurement. So if you buy a system, how much is that system going to cost to use over the whole lifetime of the system, not just how much is the procurement price. And energy has got to be a big factor in that.

  • 11:17:42

    REHMAnd you've also said that you'd like to demonstrate a green carrier strike force.

  • 11:17:52

    MABUSWe're going to demonstrate the great green fleet, which is a carrier strike group, next year in 2012, and that's what the RFP is for. That's the 100,000 gallons of aviation fuel, 350,000 gallons of surface fuel. We've already got a head start. All our carriers, all our submarines are nuclear, so we're already using alternative fuels for them. What we're going to do is use alternative fuels for all the rest of the surface ships in the group and the aircraft.

  • 11:18:22

    REHMWell I want to congratulate you and wish you all the best. I'm sure there are a great many companies out there hoping you will proceed as you have planned. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, thank you so much for being here.

  • 11:18:43

    MABUSDiane, thank you for having me.

  • 11:18:44

    REHMAnd short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd as we talk about the military's use of alternative energy, joining me now in the studio, Sharon Burke. She's assistant secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, he's president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, short ACORE. And Coral Davenport, she's energy and environment correspondent for National Journal. We'll open the phones and take your calls, 800-433-8850.

  • 11:20:50

    REHMCoral Davenport, if I could start with you. To outsiders this seems like sort of an unlikely alliance. How do you see it?

  • 11:21:00

    MS. CORAL DAVENPORTWell, you know, I thought it was too until, you know, we started exploring this story and the secretary really laid out the situation. This is not the Pentagon trying to go green for the sake of going green. This is, you know, the defense -- the Department of Defense realizing it has a huge problem with how it consumes energy, how much it spends on energy, the number of lives that have been lost. That was -- you know, we're now at the point where...

  • 11:21:30

    REHMIt's a shocker.

  • 11:21:31

    DAVENPORT...thousands of troops' and civilians' lives have been lost guarding those fuel convoys in Afghanistan. When I learned that most of -- the majority of the convoys going through Afghanistan are going to deliver only fuel, you know, that really illuminated the problem for me. So the Pentagon stepped in and said, we have to find some other way to generate energy, to get energy. And that's where the push to look for some kind of alternative came from.

  • 11:22:06

    REHMCoral Davenport. She's energy and environment correspondent for National Journal. And turning to you, Secretary Sharon Burke, the Department of Defense really accounts for nearly 80 percent of the government's total energy consumption. What role do you think the Department should play?

  • 11:22:31

    MS. SHARON BURKEWell, the Department's most important role is to protect the security of the country. That's our job. But the question is, can we use energy better in meeting that mission? And we certainly can. So our role is, as war fighters, if we use energy better and we promote innovation for our own purposes, it'll not only make us better at the very important mission we have for the country but as has often been the case in a number of technologies, whether it's GPS or the internet or anything, what we do for our own purposes does -- can have benefits for the civilian economy. It's not a sure thing but it happens often. So...

  • 11:23:07


  • 11:23:07

    BURKE...I think that's the case here too.

  • 11:23:08

    REHM...and the GPS is certainly one example. There are others as well. Sharon Burke is assistant secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. Admiral McGinn, when you were in the Navy was something like this talked about?

  • 11:23:32

    RET. VICE ADMIRAL DENNIS MCGINNWe were very concerned about our energy use. We always used to manage very, very carefully what we called ship steaming days, which implied consumption of fuel in aircraft flying hours. That still goes on. What we didn't have was the kind of technology that's available today, alternative bio-fuels that are coming on the market, energy efficiency technology. And so we were basically trying to manage our energy use principally through changes in practices and process.

  • 11:24:01

    RET. VICE ADMIRAL DENNIS MCGINNNow we still need to continue to do that. But the technologies that are available to really make some strides in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel is really, really coming into its own.

  • 11:24:14

    REHMHow much of a lag time has there been? When did the Navy -- when did the Defense Department become interested in these bio-fuels?

  • 11:24:27

    MCGINNI would say it came with Secretary Mabus. It was clear from his comments that he not only gets it in terms of the vulnerabilities that dependence on fossil fuels gives to our military, all of our services, not just Navy and Marine Corp. And basically ask the question, isn't there something that we can do about it?

  • 11:24:47

    MCGINNThe other person that really brought this into sharp focus was the former Commandant of the Marine Corp. Jim Conway who in August of 2009 convened an energy summit here in Washington and said, we have got to lighten the energy load on our Marines and soldiers over there in Afghanistan. His efforts have been continued by the current Commandant Amos, General Amos.

  • 11:25:10


  • 11:25:11

    DAVENPORTAnd you know Diane, something that I found that's interesting is, as I've talked with folks both within the military and within the broader energy industry about this is, there's kind of a two-pronged approach to this. On one hand the Pentagon is interested in reducing its own dependence on petroleum and the cost that it pays.

  • 11:25:33

    DAVENPORTOn the other hand, there is a real interest -- there's a real benefit for the military if it succeeds in spurring -- you know, spurring alternative -- an alternative energy market in the broader economy. Because the more the United States is dependent on these foreign sources of oil the more the military remains shackled to, you know, to the Middle East, to these oil-producing regions. The less the broader economy is dependent on these oil-producing regions, the less the military has to engage there. So it's -- there's that broader interest as well.

  • 11:26:08

    BURKEYou know, Diane, when you talk about where the impetus came from, it also came earlier than that, and it came from our deployed forces in 2003 and around that timeframe where the amount of fuel we were moving around what was contested battle space. Okay. So usually our convoys are behind our own front lines. But this is a different kind of war and our folks were -- our logisticians were out in the battlefield and they were getting hit. And we were getting requests back from the field from General Jim Mattis who's now the commanding general of central command who said, unleash us from the tether of fuel.

  • 11:26:41

    BURKEBack here in Washington we had in 2005 an urgent request from the field to do this differently. So there's been some demand there and the question has been, how do we actually do it? And now we've got top leadership kicking in and that makes a big difference too.

  • 11:26:56

    REHMWhen I asked Secretary Mabus about what's going on in Congress right now and the effort to cut, cut, cut, how could that, how might that affect what the Department of Defense does in the way of acquiring these more expensive fuels?

  • 11:27:19

    BURKEWell, there's two different answers to that and I think, you know, my job is to look at the fuel we use for military operations, which is most of what we use. About 75 percent of the five billion gallons or the 160 million barrels of oil equivalent that we used last year was all for military operations. So the imperative there is a little different. It's a capability like any other. We need what we need to get the job done and there's a lot of support on the Hill, bipartisan support for that approach.

  • 11:27:48

    BURKEIf you look at Afghanistan right now there's two different opportunities here. In our forward operating bases we're consuming a huge volume of fuel and there are things we can do that would pay back quickly to cut that volume, more efficient generators, better shelters, better air-conditioning units, better -- all the end use is getting better. That will save us money and of course there's a lot of support for that.

  • 11:28:12

    BURKEBut then out on the tactical edge, the kinds of things that the Secretary was talking about where you have Marines who are very distant from the supply lines and tough circumstances who are engaging with the local communities and who are fighting the fight, they need better capability. And the cost factors work out differently there. So these solar recharging batteries that take, you know, hundreds of pounds of batteries out of the resupply and it gives them more range and more endurance, they're better able to do their jobs, that's a cost that Congress is supportive of, just like with MRAPs and any other capability our forces need to get the job done.

  • 11:28:47

    REHMCoral, can you estimate how much the military spends on fuel these days?

  • 11:28:56

    DAVENPORTI know that in 2008, which was the last time we saw oil prices reach that record high that we saw here, that $4.12 national average for a gallon, the military spent between 18 and $20 billion on petroleum. And that's as much as, you know -- that's as much as the cost of an entire agency -- to fund an entire agency. That's a massive amount that's spent on petroleum.

  • 11:29:24

    REHMSo one could assume that the cost cutting would take you to where?

  • 11:29:33

    DAVENPORTWell, that's the question. You know, the price -- the amount that the military spends on fuel is dependent on the extremely volatile price of oil. So, you know, you have to balance that off with, you know, the uncertain costs of some of these new energy sources. You know, right now, you know, the cost of oil is around $9200 a barrel. Costs of some of these algae and camelina type bio-fuels are still more. They're still 140 to $150...

  • 11:30:04


  • 11:30:04

    DAVENPORT...a barrel. So, you know, if you look at those short term costs they're going to be more. And that is still politically a tough case to make in this Congress more than any other.

  • 11:30:14


  • 11:30:14

    BURKEWell, we have a great opportunity as far as efficiency in improving the efficiency of our use because we don't do that much on the -- in terms of military operations about using energy better, and we could do so much more there. And that requires a lot less upfront investment. You get a lot better return. And that is -- in the new energy strategy for the Department that's a top goal.

  • 11:30:35

    REHMAnd Admiral McGinn, what about this as a national security issue?

  • 11:30:43

    MCGINNIn 2008, Diane, I was -- I still am a member of the CNA Military Advisory Board. About a dozen retired three- and four-star admirals and generals from all of the services as well as the Coast Guard, we put out a report called Powering America's Security and the key conclusion there was that United States' energy posture constitutes a serious and urgent threat to our national security militarily, diplomatically and economically. And further that this vulnerability can be exploited by those who would wish to do us harm.

  • 11:31:16

    MCGINNWhen we look at the volatility of oil on the global market we think about normally economic things, OPEX role perhaps, occasionally like we saw in 2005 with Katrina, a natural phenomenon, natural disaster driving it up temporarily. The fact of the matter is, we are not in control of our energy future. We simply are not. Other factors, it could be the Iranian Republican Guards closing down the Straits of Hormuz. It could be an attack on key Saudi oil transshipment points up in the Persian Gulf. It could be a variety of things. Or it could be a hurricane with better aim and more ferocity than Katrina was wiping out a portion of our energy source in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • 11:32:00

    REHMWhy do you think it's taken so long for the private sector to move more enthusiastically to these alternative fuels? And why is it now going to take the military to get that moving?

  • 11:32:17

    MCGINNI think terms like clean energy, green energy, even renewable energy, have taken on some political baggage over the past few years. It's unfortunate but I think one of the things that the military's going to do -- and I like to use the phrase, look, if solar energy and energy efficiency are good enough for the Marines and the fight in Afghanistan, what is wrong with the rest of us Americans. I'd like to see solar panels, wind farms become the victory gardens of the 21st Century.

  • 11:32:49

    REHMRetired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn. He's president of the American Council on Renewable Energy. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Highpoint, N.C. and to Randy. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:19

    RANDYGood morning, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.

  • 11:33:21


  • 11:33:22

    RANDYMy question for your distinguished guests is, I'm U.S. Air Force retired, and I know many other Americans besides myself are thinking about this. We've spent untold billions, possibly trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan for some obvious, you know, lofty goals, ideals, et cetera that I'm certainly supporting. But at no time have we ever made any demands, especially on the Iraqis, for oil to at least help us finance the cost of our efforts to defend them during the last ten years. I'm not saying that Iraqi oil would certainly make a major dent in our consumption of using imported oil. But at least for this endeavor in Iraq and Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda it would seem very logical for us to do that. Why...

  • 11:34:09

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:34:10

    RANDY...hasn't that been done over the years?

  • 11:34:10

    REHMOkay. Randy, I'm going to defer your question to another panel. I don't think this is quite the panel to address that question as to why the Iraqis have not been asked to pay back with oil. Let's go to J.D. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:42

    J.D.Yes. This is solar man J.D. and the question I have is, the last I'd checked I believe the Navy was somewhere around $4.35 per watt for their solar panels. Correct me if I'm wrong there, but I'm at $2.50 with a good old American panel here in South Florida that will be up and running here shortly. But what are they...

  • 11:35:10

    REHMI'm sorry, sir, where are you?

  • 11:35:14

    J.D.Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

  • 11:35:16

    REHMYeah, okay. I'm not going to be able to continue our conversation if your radio is on. So please turn off your radio and...

  • 11:35:30

    J.D.Just turned it off.

  • 11:35:31

    REHMOkay. So finish your question, please.

  • 11:35:35

    J.D.Again, the last I checked the Navy was at like -- purchasing panels at $4.35 a watt. I'm wondering, what are they doing to get that price down, because the majority of the panels that are the least expensive panels that put out the most electricity are foreign made.

  • 11:35:54

    REHMOkay. Thanks for your call. Sharon Burke.

  • 11:35:57

    BURKEWell, two things that we're doing to get the price down is that we are buying in large lots and we do have sourcing requirements for -- certainly for domestic purchases. For our overseas purchases, one of the challenges -- and we're working with small businesses on this -- is they need to be able to develop their product so that it works in a deployed environment. But we've had very good luck.

  • 11:36:23

    BURKEThe solar rechargeable batteries, that I believe Secretary Mabus referred to, that the Marines have been using in some of the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan, those are produced by a small American company that's based in Irvine, Calif. So we actually have had very good luck and I would encourage the caller -- I would encourage J.D. and any other listener to look for those opportunities. The Army has a opening out right now on Fed Biz Ops for these kinds of technologies. So there are ways to do this.

  • 11:36:53

    REHMAdmiral McGinn.

  • 11:36:55

    MCGINNJ.D., solar man, I hope that you're working with Governor Rick Scott and his administration down there through solar panels to turn Florida back into the real Sunshine State. I know that's on the license plates but it's a great opportunity for not just the military. And as you point out the trend is that solar panel costs per watt are coming down and the efficiency is going up. So this is a great investment.

  • 11:37:22

    REHMRetired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn. We'll take a short break now. When we come back more of your calls, your e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd as we talk about the military going green, here's an e-mail from Bonnie in Jacksonville, Fla. She says, "Even if alternative fuels do cost more, if it saves lives it still saves more in the long run. What about the cost of medical care? How much alternative energy could be bought for the cost of care for just one wounded soldier?" Secretary Burke?

  • 11:40:38

    BURKEIt's a great question and it is something we're trying to do now is, when we ask how much does it cost us, not just what's the cost of the commodity, what's the cost of that gallon of fuel but what does it really cost us? What does it cost us to move that fuel? What does it cost us to protect that fuel? What does it cost us when people are attacked moving that fuel? So that when we're making choices, you know, our acquisition budget right now is about $400 billion a year.

  • 11:41:05

    BURKEWhen we're making choices as an institution about what to buy and what kind of military we need for the future, we need to have better informed choices. So not just, what do we think that gallon of fuel is going to cost but what does it really cost us? And we're now, bringing this into our acquisition process.

  • 11:41:21

    REHMCoral Davenport, during your reporting on this subject, were you surprised to learn that one soldier, one Marine, one Naval person gets killed with almost each transport of oil?

  • 11:41:40

    DAVENPORTThat was stunning to me and that was what so clearly illuminated, as I said, for me why the military has this imperative. It just, you know, it was so clearly a matter of blood and treasure. You know, the amount of deaths that go hand-in-hand only with the movement of fuel to the front lines, only associated with, you know, the physical presence of petroleum.

  • 11:42:11

    REHMExactly. All right. Let's go to Frank in Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:42:20

    FRANKHello, Diane. Been listening to you for years. My point is very much akin to the one that was just made, except step back a bit and look at the whole reason for American foreign policy and being bogged down in the Middle East to begin with.

  • 11:42:50

    FRANKFor instance, shouldn't the cost of keeping a, you know, a naval presence, a very heavy naval presence in Bahrain be considered as part of the cost of oil? A hidden cost at that, which if you had to pay for it at the pump, you know, would be quite a shocker I think.

  • 11:43:21

    REHMAdmiral McGinn?

  • 11:43:22

    MCGINNI saw some analysis about two years ago, Diane, that said if we really did factor in all of the costs associated with our use of fuel, petroleum especially, including the deployment of all of our forces around the world, not the total cost but the portion that would be attributed to maintaining the lifeblood of the world's economy called oil, that we would be paying between $7.00 and $8.00 at the pump. We are paying that, it's just through income taxes, fees and other things. It's just that it's not evident that that is going to the price of our addiction to oil.

  • 11:43:59

    REHMHere's an e-mail from Kevin in Baltimore who says, "I read in Newsweek that approximately 40 percent of our defense budget goes toward protecting oil supplies around the world. Is that figure correct and how much is 40 percent in dollars?" Sharon Burke?

  • 11:44:25

    BURKEI have no idea where that number is coming from and it sounds not correct, and it would be difficult to calculate that on those grounds. What I can tell you is that last year, we spent $15.2 billion on energy. $13 billion of that was for petroleum-based fuels and that anytime we move that, a lot of that was used by the way in the United States, for training and for other purposes, but anytime we're in a battlefield where we're moving fuel around, yes, we have to protect it and we have to take care of it.

  • 11:44:58

    BURKESo what the total infrastructure costs, because it's, you know, it's the Army's fuel trucks and the Air Force's 135, their tanker planes and the Navy's oilers, it does take a lot of infrastructure to move all this fuel around and also to hold it. So there are some associated costs there but 40 percent sounds awfully high to me.

  • 11:45:20

    REHMAll right. To Carl in Indianapolis. Good morning.

  • 11:45:26

    CARLGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:45:27


  • 11:45:29

    CARLMy question to the panel is that you have several means of collecting electricity, solar panels and whatnot. My question is, how do you plan on storing this usable energy besides the standard, you know, lithium polymer batteries, which take up the highest density at the moment.

  • 11:45:51

    CARLI've seen some research on high-density capacitors, what we call Ester that the government has actually bought into and so has Boeing. Is there anybody doing any research or information on this to have these capacitors implemented?

  • 11:46:09

    REHMAll right. Admiral McGinn?

  • 11:46:11

    MCGINNThere's a tremendous amount of research being done about energy storage. This is one of the challenges for intermittent sources of energy like wind and solar, for example. But batteries are one means and they're getting more and more efficient and higher capacity.

  • 11:46:28

    MCGINNThe utilities are increasingly using flywheel systems to deal with momentary interruptions but we still haven't gotten the Holy Grail, if you will, of energy storage, that we will, I'm confident, get.

  • 11:46:42

    MCGINNThere's a great project out at Joint Base Hickam, Hawaii where the Air Force has a large solar array that is using the electricity to convert water through the hydrolysis process into hydrogen and oxygen.

  • 11:46:56

    MCGINNThe hydrogen is being stored in one-kilogram cylinders and it's actually powering a fuel cell General Motors SUV. That is one form, I'm sure, that the economics of it aren't particularly appealing at this point but there are a lot of good things that are going on to convert intermittent sources of electricity into storage.

  • 11:47:16


  • 11:47:17

    DAVENPORTWell, you know, this raises another interesting question because the Pentagon is driving this demand for all these great, interesting, new technologies and, you know, as the Admiral said, battery technology is one of the most important, biggest ones.

  • 11:47:31

    DAVENPORTBut that research, the research into these new technologies is not being done by the military. That's by being done by the private sector and it's also being done by agencies like the Department of Energy and these are areas where there's not as much money. The Energy Department is absolutely facing a slashed budget. There are many Republicans in Congress who are saying maybe we shouldn't even have an Energy Department at all. That's where the research is being done.

  • 11:47:57

    REHMBut at the same time, don't you have automobile companies like GM, like Toyota, for example, coming up with a Prius that becomes the baseline for developing something that the military uses?

  • 11:48:18

    BURKERight. And we do -- are doing a couple of different things. For example, we do have a $15 million Research and Development, Test and Evaluation Program with DOE on hybrid, electric storage modules.

  • 11:48:30

    BURKESo we actually are making that investment and our labs are looking at this but it's almost always in partnership with the private sector and the piece of DOE that we're working with on this is ARPA-E is, you know, relatively new organization and that's its business model, is to really try to capture the best that the private sector has to offer.

  • 11:48:49

    BURKEOur DoD labs are the same way. The tank, automotive research and development center that's up in Detroit has very extensive partnerships with the auto-manufacturers up there to develop some alternatives, including in energy storage. So we do look at partnership with the private sector in this area.

  • 11:49:08

    MCGINNDiane, I would just add that in looking to what the Congress is doing to try to bring down our national debt and reduce spending, I'm hopeful that they are very wise in the decisions about what they cut. Much of the expenditure of the federal government is consumption.

  • 11:49:24

    MCGINNYou buy it, you use it and it's gone. But things related to clean energy technology, energy efficiency and renewables, that is an investment in our future and it would be a really bad thing for the Congress to simply whack away without really considering the fact that many of these technologies will actually contribute to the economic well being and the job growth of this country.

  • 11:49:49

    MCGINNNot just in 10 years but next year and we see a lot of companies around the country that are already flourishing with this clean energy technology.

  • 11:49:58

    REHMSo what's going on on Capitol Hill right now must make you a tad nervous?

  • 11:50:05

    MCGINNIt certainly does and I'm hopeful that our elected officials can, in fact, distinguish between things, which are consumption, I would use, how about burning oil as a billion dollar-a-day habit that the United States has. It sends that much out of our economy everyday versus investments that create jobs and improve our economy and will contribute to the reduction of our national debt.

  • 11:50:31

    REHMHere is a Facebook post from Lindsey, who says, "I'm all for green energy but don't you have to move bio-fuels as much as you do regular oil in Afghanistan?"

  • 11:50:50

    BURKEWell, yes, that is certainly true and that's one of the reasons that in our new strategy -- in the department's strategy that our first priority is to get the volume of fuel we're consuming down. You know, we use so much fuel on the battlefield, so we need to have more efficient engines. We need to have more efficient generators and tents. We need to get that volume down first.

  • 11:51:10

    REHMSo that the delivery is reduced in huge quantities?

  • 11:51:14

    BURKECorrect. Right. Because that, you know, that can be a target, even now, for the foes we're facing. But we, you know, we may face more capable adversaries someday and they may be to better target our supply lines. But, you know, also for that matter when we're doing humanitarian and disaster relief it's a lot of volume to move and it puts a lot of our assets into play just moving fuel.

  • 11:51:37

    BURKEBut, you know, it's certainly true that if you're just looking at bio-fuels as a one-for-one replacement, it doesn't help us tactically in a place like Afghanistan. But we're also an institution that plans very far in the future. You know, one of the first things I did when I started this job is I went to the U.S.S. Enterprise, which is a nuclear aircraft carrier. It's 50 years old, so that was built 50 years ago and conceived probably what 10 or 20 years before that.

  • 11:52:02

    BURKESo means 70 years ago, do you think that the people who thought of that -- that they thought that's what it would be doing today? That it would supporting a mission in Afghanistan? So we do as an institution look very far forward and so the alternative fuels is about our future and about some of our equipment that we have now that's going to be around for a very long time. We need to make sure we can use it in the future to defend the country.

  • 11:52:24

    REHMCoral, go ahead.

  • 11:52:26

    DAVENPORTAnd Sharon, you know, something that I thought was really interesting that we see the military doing in Afghanistan is replacing some of that petroleum use with solar energy is that generated on site. So, you know, obviously solar energy isn't enough to power an entire base but it can displace a significant amount of the petroleum that's chucked out there and so we're seeing, you know, I just thought it was fascinating seeing the military making these other choices, you know, these fuel displacements.

  • 11:52:54

    REHMCoral Davenport, she's energy and environment correspondent for "National Journal," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Coral, in your reporting we heard Secretary Mabus talking about the Navy and the Marine Corp but what about the other branches of service, do they seem to be equally on board?

  • 11:53:22

    DAVENPORTIt would seem like it's a little bit of a mix throughout the services but what the military has done that is new is that they created this office operational energy and, you know, they put Assistant Secretary Burke in charge of this.

  • 11:53:35

    DAVENPORTSo now, you're here to, you know, put it all together and look at the services as a whole. You know, we saw -- I saw that in recent years there were, you know, spurts of interest here and there throughout but now we have Assistant Secretary Burke saying, now we have one strategy, you know, one central office and this will be put forth throughout all of the services. So that's just new in the last year.

  • 11:53:57

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Christian.

  • 11:54:05

    CHRISTIANDiane, this has to be one of the best shows ever. Thank you so much for highlighting this need.

  • 11:54:12

    REHMMy pleasure. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:54:16

    CHRISTIANJust two quick comments. I would like to invite -- your panel's very distinguished, to talk to Lyle Estelle over in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He runs the Piedmont Fuels Bio-Diesel Co-op. They produce it -- the reason it's interesting is they produce bio-diesel recycled from used cooking oil at about $.26 cents a gallon.

  • 11:54:43

    CHRISTIANHe's attracted world-class investments and is moving into brown grease, which there's a ton of. Yellow grease, which is, for example, what McDonald's and the Burger Kings of the world produce or any restaurant. There's about 3 billion plus gallons. Unfortunately, 90 percent of it goes into the cosmetic industry to make makeup, goes to the animal feed industry which illegal in Europe, and goes into the pet feed industry, which, you know, is pretty disgusting as well.

  • 11:55:16

    CHRISTIANI'm wondering what is the military doing to promote clean fuels at home so that when we get into troubles abroad, we can take this technology and we can take this muscle memory to the battlefield?

  • 11:55:31

    REHMSharon Burke?

  • 11:55:33

    BURKEWell, two comments about that. My colleague, the assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, Katherine Hammack, has talked about that in Iraq we actually have a couple of forward operating bases that are using recycled cooking oil.

  • 11:55:48

    ASST. SECRETARY SHARON BURKESo that's, you know, there are places where we are doing that, and as far as what we're doing at home, it's very important -- we spend a lot of effort at home being ready, ready for anything. We have to be ready. If you look at the military strategy, we have to be ready right now for such a wide range of kinds of contingencies.

  • 11:56:08

    ASST. SECRETARY SHARON BURKEWhether it's humanitarian relief or conventional combat and in that readiness training, whatever we think we're going to do forward, if we're going to use solar power in our forward operating bases, we have to train on it too. So anything we do here, you know, is to be ready for that fight. So we absolutely need to incorporate these technologies into what we're doing at home too.

  • 11:56:30

    REHMVery interesting discussion. Thank you all so much. Sharon Burke, she's assistant secretary of defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy and Coral Davenport, energy and environment correspondent for "National Journal." Thank you and thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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