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Oil Free by 2050

by murdoc on February 28, 2007

Hornet-over-oil-wells.jpg

The US military needs oil — about 300,000 barrels a day — to fight.

Lots of oil comes from the same places where the military actually is fighting today, or may be fighting sometime in the not so distant future. (Hello, Iran?)

Oh, the irony!

It should come as no surprise then that the Department of Defense is giving very serious thought to oil independence. The notion is that the nation — and particularly the military — must have assured access to energy, and oil isn’t such a safe bet any more.

Champions of this concept are known to include John Young, DOD’s director for Defense Research and Engineering; and Ron Sega, undersecretary of the Air Force and — on Capitol Hill — New York Republican Representative Steve Israel and Maryland Republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett.

There’s been some press about a highly-touted Air Force experiment using a synthentic base fuel (derived from natural gas pumped in from Oklahoma) to power one of the B-52’s eight engines.

But that’s just kid-stuff, really.

It’s very clear that a much broader vision exists within DOD to really go … all .. the … way, and fast.

The vision can be found in this master’s thesis by Air Force Lt Col Michael J. Hornitschek, who originally published the document for the Air University’s Center for Strategy and Technology. It has since been republished in the Air Force Journal of Logistics. It’s a thesis, but it often reads like a very good Popular Science article.

Here’s a quick excerpt that explains the vision:

“A directed-energy based, highly-automated force, capable of generating a majority of its own power in a distributed fashion from local and environmental sources, could theoretically provide that future. The potential efficiency, environmental ubiquity, universality and convertibility from one form to another of this configuration, make strong arguments that the force of 2050 can be powered almost exclusively by electricity and hydrogen.

“Setting aside conventional paradigms allows one to imagine a conceptual 2050 force. All navy ships might employ nuclear-powered direct-electric drives, lightweight nanoengineered hulls, and directed energy armament. All army and marine corps future combat system land vehicles (many of which are unmanned) are designed for modular upgrades with plug-in electric hybrid or fuel-cell power, lightweight carbon nanotube-based armor and directed energy weaponry. Today’s vulnerable tanker fuel trucks are replaced with smaller hybrid or fuel-cell powered trucks carrying stable, solid hydrate-based hydrogen batteries or combat safety-engineered liquid hydrogen containers. Individual soldiers are outfitted with pocket hydrogen fuel cells to power 10–15 onboard electric systems. Virtually all combat fighter aircraft are small, unmanned or single-seat, and powered by liquid or even nano-engineered solid hydrogen-based fuels. Ultra-efficient aircraft designs eliminate the need for tanker aircraft. All imagery (sic), surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms are either space-based or unmanned vehicles, orbiting for weeks at a time exclusively on solar-generated power while peering through weather from above.”

Stephen Trimble

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