Wednesday, October 27, 2010

America's Algae-Fueled Military

The U.S. Navy has successfully tested an algae-fueled boat, the first step in its plan to power its fleet with up to 50 percent green and nuclear fuels by 2020:

"Fuels made from algae oil burn more cleanly than fossil fuel, but preventing climate change is not a major factor in the Pentagon's calculations. 'Our programme to go green is about combat capability, first and foremost,' Cullom said. 'We no longer want to be held hostage by one form of energy such as petroleum.'

Over the last year, the Pentagon has become increasingly vocal about the burden of running oil convoys in battle zones. Fossil fuel is the number one import to US troops in Afghanistan, and the slow and lumbering convoys of oil tankers are an obvious target for enemy combatants.

Fossil fuels are also horrendously expensive. By the time it reaches a war zone, the true cost of a gallon of petrol is well over $400."

The good news for the rest of us is that this kind of innovation often pushes its way into the civilian marketplace, and at a cheap price made possible by the military's economies of scale. Hegemony can be environmentally sound!

More to the point, there's not much direct incentive for most Americans to change their lifestyles because of climate change: They're not the ones feeling the pain. So alternative energies are probably going to have to be developed as a plausibly inexpensive alternative to fossil fuels to get the world sincere about kicking the oil habit. The military is willing to pay $400 a gallon to get its oil to Afghanistan; it would rather find a cheaper way. That's the opportunity that should be seized.

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