Future army could run on alternative fuels, photosynthesis

ys. "With fossil fuels, logistics can become difficult because you have to have this long supply chain."

Although using non-petroleum sources of energy would have obvious environmental and social benefits, Love says this didn't factor into the committee's considerations.

"Obviously there are always spin-offs of military innovation, but the committee was concerned with what would improve the operations of the Army."

Scientists are already working on making fuel from waste plant materials such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Grasses, surplus grains, spoiled food, food wrappers, paper or even cotton cloth could be converted into fuel using this method.

"In theory, these materials could be produced in the field (if the theater of operation were in a temperate zone) and used as fuels," the report states.

"The Army needs to be investigating surrogate fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, and make sure their engines can run on a variety of fuels," Ladisch says. "Actually, I think this can be done with a minimal amount of modification. They're in pretty good shape in this area."

Another energy need for modern soldiers in the field is electricity, and batteries are bulky and very heavy. Biological systems may provide a solution, the NRC committee suggests.

"Right now the Army is dependent on batteries, and they can't take seriously other energy sources such as solar power," Love says. "One of the things the report investigated was photovoltaic energy, and how bioelectronics might make it possible to increase the efficiency of converting sunlight to usable energy. If you put this together with fuel-cell storage techniques, this would have a large impact on how the military operates, especially for small unit operations."

The NRC recommends that the Army investigate how plants convert photons to energy because plants are so good at grabbing energy from the natural environment. Millions of years of natural selection has optimize

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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