Conference keynote explains biomass potential for US DoD

By Luke Geiver | April 17, 2012

Many attendees of the 2012 International Biomass Conference & Expo were captivated by the keynote presentation delivered by 26-year U.S. Army Veteran Dan Nolan.

Nolan, now CEO of Sabot 6, an energy and military consulting company, ended his speech with a slide that featured a night-view map of the world. To drive home his message on the important role energy will play in the future of the U.S., he highlighted the major conflict areas in the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China, and others. Although the safer regions of the world were lit up at night, all regions that represent the most danger were dark in comparison. Nolan offered advice to anyone who wonders where conflict will arise without energy security. “Look at the world at night,” he said.  

Nolan also provided the crowd with several key points that were both informative and refreshing. He explained the link between the U.S. Department of Defense and renewable energy, specifically biomass. “DoD is a market driver,” he said. “It is the gorilla in the room.” The DoD is an unrivaled entity in terms of its reach into the energy sector. It’s also the nation’s largest employer, and if all its acres were linked together, it would be the size of Pennsylvania. Nolan said the potential for biomass use within the agency is barely tapped.

To highlight his point, he referenced several examples from his military career that indicated not only the need, but the opportunity for biomass-based power and thermal. In each of his positions in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan, electricity wasn’t easy to come by. The concepts and innovations the military had developed to produce on-site energy weren’t holding up. Although certain areas of technology in the military are leading edge, its ability to acquire efficient and cheap energy has not progressed at the same pace. “We own the night, as long as our batteries don’t run out,” he said of the military’s tactical advantage based on technology. To date, the DoD’s largest energy need is electricity.

But the department also needs to develop a better U.S.-based infrastructure and energy strategy, he said. To illustrate that, Nolan recounted a flight he once took with a U.S. Air Force pilot. Upon reaching 10,000 feet, the pilot took her hands off the steering column and radioed to a station in Nevada, saying, “The controls are all yours now.” The pilot told Nolan that most of the Air Force’s missions and unit operations are controlled by people in places like Nevada. The U.S. military performs many of its overseas operations via the U.S., all of which depend on a reliable source of electricity, he explained. Public and private sectors also depend on U.S.-based energy. “If a tree limb goes down (on a power line) in Ohio and Wall Street goes black, we have a problem.”

To fix that problem, Nolan highlighted several military initiatives that biomass producers can take advantage of, including new $7.1 billion initiative put forth by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That initiative will help develop an infrastructure market and energy generation facilities at military installations across the U.S. The military installations want to sign undefined time and quantity contracts with energy producers just to show their strong commitment to renewable energy generation, he said. The energy facilities would be built inside the gates of the military communities, and although state regulations might cause a headache, Nolan said the military is able to buy directly from third-party vendors. The initiative will continue taking applications for another six to eight months, and projects will begin in about a year.  

Nolan showed a map of the Southeastern U.S., an area dense with military installations, but sparse with renewable energy production facilities. Now, he said, it is just a matter of educating the right people about the prospect of utilizing biomass for military installation energy requirements.