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Market News

 March 01, 2007
Military wants green energy and fuel efficiency

 Ottawa, Canada (CanWest News Service) - Faced with mounting fuel bills, the Canadian Forces is looking to alternative energy sources as well getting better performance from equipment that it purchases in the future.

A new office at Defence headquarters, the directorate of fuels and lubricants, has been established to become the central clearing house on such issues. It will not only monitor military fuel consumption but set standards and procedures for the use of alternative energy such as biodiesel.

The high cost of oil is a growing concern for western militaries and is pushing armed forces to embrace everything from solar and wind power to biofuels made from fish or coconuts.

The U.S. military estimates that for every $10 US increase in the price of a barrel of oil, its fuel bill climbs $1.3 billion. Its budget for oil has risen from a little more than $5 billion US in 2003 to over $8 billion last year, even though it's consumption of petroleum has dropped somewhat.

Similar figures are not available for the Canadian Forces but officials acknowledge the increase in oil prices is draining resources.

"The market price is throwing budgets left, right and centre," said Lt.-Col. Bernard Poulin, the head of the fuels and lubricants branch. "People are taking it pretty personally when their budgets are cut by 10, 20 or 30 per cent to compensate for fuel increases. It really hit home last year."

Unlike militaries in the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, the Canadian Forces has not had a branch to deal specifically with fuel issues. Poulin says officers have been advocating for such an organization for years.

He said while at this point the office is mainly focused on traditional forms of fuel, the Canadian Forces is interested in the research being conducted by its allies on alternative energy sources. This week it sent an official down to a Pentagon conference on the use of non-petroleum fuels.

At some of its bases the U.S. uses wind turbines to provide electricity and it is researching solar power as well as hybrid-electric engine technology. Two months ago, the U.S. air force conducted an experiment flying a bomber on fuel made partly from natural gas.

"We want to see what comes up, what's being worked on and how that can be applied in the CF," Poulin said of the research being conducted in the U.S.

His first job, however, is to come up with a way to electronically track the consumption of fuel in the military as well as gather other related information, such as whether specific equipment is energy efficient.

His office will also be available to consult on the fuel efficiency of new equipment to be purchased, although he acknowledged at this point that is a lower priority when it comes to determining the type of gear to be bought.

Work is also planned on the use of biodiesel and ethanol fuels. Poulin noted that Canadian Forces Base Halifax is interested in operating some of its diesel trucks on a biofuel made from fish oil.

Some energy analysts believe the U.S. military holds the key to fuel-savings in the civilian sector. Scott Pugh, a Washington-based analyst with the Rocky Mountain Institute, noted that military organizations were behind the development of the Internet, jet engines and transistors.

"If the military can make some of these advances, primarily in advanced materials and advanced propulsion technologies, then once it's commercialized it can have tremendous spin-off value for the civilian sector," said Pugh, whose organization promotes energy efficiency. "That's the real hope."