Great, Green Military Of The Future: Friend Or Foe?

Looking into a crystal ball it’s hard to bet against the possibility that the coming decades will be the era of the great renewable energy revolution.

Do a swift 180 and look back at the two decades just gone and it’s fair to say that one technological advance stood out above all others as defining the period. In case you’re not sure what it is I’ll give you a clue: you’re using it right now.

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image via U.S. Navy

The Internet may have taken over the world in little more than 20 years but the history of its development goes back much further. In 1963, a computer scientist called J.C.R Licklider wrote a memorandum discussing a concept for an “Intergalactic Computer Network.” Seen with hindsight the concept is pretty much a blueprint for what the Internet became.

The same year as the memoranda came out Licklider was appointed to a leading role at the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to create a shared computer network known as the ARPANET. The ARPANET was one of the core networks that eventually led to the creation of what we recognize today as the world wide web and it was funded by the U.S. military.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, of course. It’s a well-known irony of history that war has frequently helped advance the cause of technology: radio, radar and nuclear energy are just three obvious examples.

Right now something similar could be going on with renewable energy.

At a naval base on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia, scientists from the U.S. military are developing a system to create energy from hot and cold seawater. Called Otec, the system uses the hot and cold water to alternatively heat up and cool a refrigerant-like ammonia which boils at room temperature and which is used to power a turbine.

The research, however, is only a small part of the military’s green tech agenda. The U.S. military, from its top brass to its frontline troops, have embraced renewables in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

The military has declared it will get half of its power from clean energy sources by 2020 and Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, has set a date of 2016 for the launch of the “Great Green Fleet” — a carrier strike group that will use fuels that are all a blend of biofuels and conventional fuels. The Marines have already begun using solar power packs at forward bases in Afghanistan and last year the Navy spent $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, the largest purchase of biofuel ever in the U.S.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.