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Tina Casey headshot

U.S. Air Force Envisions a Carbon-Negative DoD Taking on New Energy Challenges

By Tina Casey
Air Force

Despite the Donald Trump administration’s failure to formulate an effective action plan on climate change, the Department of Defense is continuing its efforts to shed fossil fuels. In the latest development, the U.S. Air Force has launched a new Reimagining Energy Challenge, aimed at “supercharging the innovation ecosystem” with the ultimate aim of a carbon negative target. Yes, that’s carbon negative — for the entire Department of Defense.

DoD, energy and the U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Department of Defense began including climate change in its official threat assessments during the Barack Obama administration. DoD recognizes that a warming world creates new global stress points that increase the demand for both humanitarian and military intervention, while affecting DoD facilities, supply chains and the military’s readiness.

As one of the world’s single largest consumers of fossil fuels, DoD can also leverage its buying power to determine its own energy future and that of the planet.

Within DoD a particular area of focus is on the Air Force, because that branch of the armed forces is the single largest user of fuel in the U.S.

The Air Force was an early adopter of biofuels and large-scale solar power during the Obama administration, and it continues to support foundational clean energy research. Along with other DoD clean tech initiatives, these efforts continue through to the present day, though perhaps flying under the media radar.

Reimagining energy in an uncertain world

With roots in the earliest days of fuel-powered flight, the Air Force also has innovation built into its DNA. That’s where something called AFWERX comes in. 

AFWERX is the Air Force’s official innovation catalyst, aimed at connecting the Air Force with the civilian network of innovators, supply chain stakeholders and financial resources.

“We're the U.S. Air Force's community of innovators who connect Airmen with the resources required to transform their ideas into reality,” AFWERX explains in its Facebook pitch. “The mission of AFWERX is to serve the needs of the Air Force by addressing tough challenges.”

One of those challenges being climate change, it’s no surprise that the Air Force has set its sights high. The Reimagining Energy Challenge is a crowd-sourcing platform that stimulates innovators to aim at two broad targets: eliminating all fossil fuel dependency across the entire DoD, and the creation of a carbon negative DoD.

The new challenge enlists innovators in a mission to "help the DoD with aspirations of eliminating all #fossilfuel dependency and becoming #carbonnegative," AFWERX emphasizes.

The Air Force is evaluating energy from every angle

The Reimagining Energy Challenge also reflects the urgent need to address energy issues that exist regardless of whether or not the world warms up catastrophically.

AFWERX notes that the Air Force’s rising demand for fuel, the emergence of new threats, and the scarcity of fossil fuel in the future all combine to demand a more diverse and resilient approach to energy.

With that in mind, the Reimagining Energy Challenge seeks solutions that solve energy issues from a holistic perspective, including: energy availability when and where needed for mission effectiveness and quality of life; more effective warfighting and humanitarian missions that are less reliant on fossil fuels; the increased ability to rapidly respond to humanitarian crises; leveraging all energy sources for military use such as wind, water, nuclear, hydrogen and thermal; the creation of new industries and capabilities inspired by the U.S. DoD; and harnessing energy from space.

This challenge covers all the bases, including fixed and mobile energy generation and storage, transmission and distribution, warfighting and operational equipment, data collection and deployment, and something called “energy culture, policy and education.”

Energy culture, policy and education

That cultural and educational aspect could become especially important after Inauguration Day in January 2021, when a potentially new administration in the White House could reinvigorate public sentiment in favor of climate action.

In addition to the Air Force, other branches of the U.S. Armed Services have been working to instill a culture of clean power, energy efficiency and energy conservation. As members of the military and civilian workers cycle back into their communities, they become crucial ambassadors of the sustainability message.

By promoting the early adoption of clean power, DoD has helped stimulate the market for new technology. Now it’s up to business leaders to support innovation and advocate for a more resilient and sustainable DoD.

Innovators who want to get in on the action still have time to participate in the Reimagining Energy Challenge. The original deadline of October 21 has been extended to October 29.

Image credit: Aral Tasher/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey