Future army could run on alternative fuels, photosynthesis

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Getting fuel to soldiers in the field has been a problem since machines replaced horses.

But according to a new report, by 2025 soldiers could make fuel and electricity where they are, instead of relying on long supply chains to transport energy to them.

"Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications," a report released today (Wednesday, 6/20) by the National Research Council's Board on Army Science and Technology, says future U.S. Army operations in the field could rely on alternative fuels and biological methods to produce electricity through photosynthesis.

The report was prepared by a 16-member committee of university and industry scientists. Purdue University's Michael Ladisch, distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering and distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, chaired the NRC committee.

One of the most well-known examples of a military energy crisis occurred near the end of World War II. As U.S. Gen. George Patton raced through France, he quickly outran his supply lines and the ability to refuel his trucks and tanks.

On Aug. 28, 1944, Patton declared, "At the present time our chief difficulty is not the Germans, but gasoline. If they would give me enough gas, I could go all the way to Berlin!"

Three days later, despite the efforts of the famed Red Ball Express, a convoy of trucks hurrying fuel to Patton's army, he and his men were stranded dry. The chance to sweep through France into Germany soon passed.

Robert Love, study director for the National Research Council, says such situations could be avoided in the future by employing alternative fuels made from natural and renewable resources.

"The real issues for the Army are the ability to simplify logistics requirements, to remain flexible with battlefield fuels, and to capitalize on alternative fuels, such as methane, instead of restricting ourselves to fossil fuels," he sa

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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