Hydrogen-powered cars may be the rage in the commercial sector, but the U.S. military is employing the first element of the periodic table to provide energy beyond transportation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is powering stateside installations as well as bases in forward operating locations with fuel cells—electrochemical cells that convert fuel sources into electric currents. The efforts result in money savings, a reduction of the dependence on foreign oil, essentially unlimited power generation and a cleaner environment.
The push for alternatives to crude-oil-based fuels is as much about greenbacks as it is about greenhouse gases. So for the U.S. military, which spends $20 billion on fuel annually, the benefit of finding viable biofuels can mean saving big bucks. But creating feasible substitutes for good old diesel is only the beginning of the workload for the U.S. Marine Corps. Not only does the service have to determine if swapping feedstock for traditional fuel is cost effective but it also must clarify the impact that doing so would have up and down the logistics road.
Scientists are developing methods to turn green algae into black gold. A research consortium consisting of two national laboratories, universities and private industry is studying a variety of technologies and processes to convert the humble one-celled organism into the chemical building blocks for biofuels and plastics.
U.S. warfighters may one day have their handheld communications and sensor equipment powered by batteries that are “grown” using biological processes. Researchers are manipulating viruses to create power sources that can be poured or sprayed into containers or woven into uniforms and ballistic vests. By using genetically engineered viruses as templates for semiconductors and metals, scientists are building small, highly efficient batteries that are more powerful and longer lasting than current platforms.