Island Independence Part II: US Military Impact

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo in Honolulu. Listening to the innovative presentations, and interacting with the bright and enthusiastic proponents of clean energy inevitably led me to reflect on Island Independence, about which I previously blogged. Looking back at that blog post, I caught an egregious error: there was no mention of the key role that the US Military plays in supporting the companies and academic researchers working to build this emerging industry.

In my previous blog post, I outlined some of the challenges facing island economies from an energy standpoint, using Hawaii as a case study. The state of Hawaii must import nearly all of the energy needed to run its society, mainly in the form of petroleum. This situation presents an untenable series of consequences for the state, should the supply of petroleum be interrupted for any reason. As a result, the state is actively working to support an evolving and growing renewable energy industry, both through legislation and operations like the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

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The US Military is faced with a suite of challenges that parallel those confronting the Hawaii state government. Case in point: the US Department of Defense consumed ~5 billion gallons of oil in 2012 at a cost of $20 billion. For every price increase of $10/barrel for oil, the military must pay an additional $1.3 billion per year. This sensitivity to price increases is a threat to the operational readiness of a military already under severe pressure as a result of sequestration and other budget cuts.

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Of course, the military is not going to take the threat of fuel constraints lying down. In preparation for possible scenarios where fuel supplies become limited, the military is taking action. The US Navy successfully tested the use of biofuels for the surface ships and aircraft of the Great Green Fleet during RIMPAC exercises in 2012.To increase domestic supplies of biofuel, the military is sponsoring actively supporting organizations with the production of biofuel crops. One example of this is the Biofuel Crop Demonstration project in Hawaii, which has the goal of fostering an expansion of the production of oilseed crops, which can be readily converted into biodiesel. Another, broader example of support for this emerging industry lies in the support provided by the DoD and the Navy for the PICHTR Energy Excelerator, which supplies grants and a support services for private companies looking to bring innovative methods of energy conservation and renewable energy production to market; these innovations could then be employed by the military in its efforts to reduce dependence on petroleum imports.

IMG_5246TerViva is actively engaging in this renewable energy ecosystem, and is in the preparing to establish our first commercial-scale orchard of pongamia trees in Hawaii. Pongamia trees are native to Polynesia, non-GMO, and can be grown on marginal land unsuitable for conventional agricultural crops. The renewable oil produced from the seeds of the pongamia tree will be converted to biodiesel in Hawaii, directly reducing the need for petroleum imports. We look forward to playing our part in supplying locally produced fuel for both the military, and the people of Hawaii.

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