Magazine article National Defense

Office of Naval Research Promotes Alternative Energy Development, Education in Asia-Pacific

Magazine article National Defense

Office of Naval Research Promotes Alternative Energy Development, Education in Asia-Pacific

Article excerpt

Anuenue Elementary School in Honolulu, Hawaii, is an unlikely spot to discover how the Navy is shaping the future of alternative energy.

Students there are being introduced to science and engineering at early ages, and their teachers given advanced training in science and technology instruction techniques.

"Early science and engineering education and training is very important," says Charles Naumu, the school's principal. "This is the foundation for the future."

Richard Carlin, director of the Office of Naval Research sea warfare and weapons department, says, "As the secretary of the Navy and others have noted, energy independence is literally a matter of national security." Carlin is the champion of a program called the Asia-Pacific technology and education partnership, or APTEP (http://www.aptep.net), which supports development of alternative energy--from encouraging early science education, to supporting innovative small businesses in the energy field.

"Our science and technology workforce is aging," notes Carlin. "By 2020, more than 50 percent will be retirement-eligible. It's urgent to replenish those ranks in order for the United States to continue to advance in the years ahead, and nowhere is this need more urgent than in the power and energy arena."

As Department of Defense leaders have made clear, the issue of fuel costs associated with enormous use of oil by even one aircraft carrier, for instance, is a strategic concern. The nation can't afford not to invest in alternative energy, with Department of Defense energy costs totaling almost $19 billion annually.

Security, risk and costs are all factors in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' ambitious energy goals, including a vision for a "great green fleet" for the nation's defenders.

"The United States Navy and Marine Corps rely far too much on petroleum, a dependency that degrades the strategic position of our country and the tactical performance of our forces," Mabus observed in 2009. "The global supply of oil is finite. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find and exploit, and over time, costs continue to rise."

So the battle for energy independence takes place in spots like Anuenue Elementary and other schools in Honolulu with teachers getting APTEP-provided training and tools to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

It takes place in locations like the Hawaii Sustainable Energy Research Facility, which with APTEP support is helping to advance fuel-cell technology--something supporters see as holding revolutionary possibilities for powering vehicles, pier-side generators, unmanned undersea platforms and more.

And the energy battle takes place most visibly in the marketplace, where APTEP supports a program called Energy Excelerator, helping startup companies bring new products from the lab to the civilian and military user.

Hawaii has become the new frontier for energy exploration. The state's unique features make it the nation's alternative-energy test bed. For naval researchers, Hawaii's ports, laboratory facilities and unmatched abundance of reliable wind, solar, wave, geothermal and other natural resources make it the perfect place to experiment, explore and develop new power and energy capabilities.

Hawaii's physical location is a plus as well, as the United States continues a well-publicized pivot to the Pacific Rim. The state's geographic spot makes it a natural anchor for research partnerships with America's Asia-Pacific allies including Thailand, Japan, Australia and Vietnam.

Energy research has become a quiet but growing part of America's strategic and diplomatic vision.

Even Hawaii's energy liabilities--it's a state nearly 90 percent dependent on expensive imported oil--serve to create strong local support for energy-related work.

"We are a state with clear logistical interest in moving forward and supporting alternative energy," says Dawn Lippert, director of Energy Excelerator. …

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