WASHINGTON - So much of our future - Michigan's and the nation's - depends on energy. National security, job creation, competitiveness in the global economy, and our environment all depend on our ability to break free from our dependence on fossil fuels and find the technologies that will power us into the coming decades.
Doing so means we must rethink old methods of doing things and break down the barriers that stand between us and new energy technologies. On July 18 at an event in Detroit, two important federal agencies with different but important missions unveiled a historic agreement that will break down some of those barriers.
The agreement establishes an alliance between the Department of the Army and the Department of Energy aimed at promoting the joint development of advanced vehicle technologies.
Sen. Carl Levin
Significantly, this alliance will become "the primary point of contact" between the Army and Department of Energy in developing new technologies such as efficient power trains; lighter materials; alternative propulsion systems, including batteries; and alternative fuels.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal announced the agreement at a first-of-its-kind Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Workshop, an event designed to bring experts from government, academia and the private sector together to discuss how to make vehicles lighter, more efficient, and less dependent on fossil fuels.
Doing so will make our troops safer, help them carry out their difficult missions, and reduce the immense logistical and security challenges they now face in getting fuel to their vehicles. It also will help pave the path for energy independence in the civilian sector, which will improve national security, help create jobs in Michigan and across the country, and protect our environment.
You hear a lot about how our dependence on imported oil is an economic problem. Less well known is how that dependence jeopardizes our troops. The more fuel their vehicles consume, the more limited their range, which limits their combat capability.
What's more, transporting all that fuel means that our troops, on top of all their other dangerous missions, have to protect a steady stream of fuel convoys, putting them at more risk. And all that transportation is expensive. According to one Pentagon estimate, supplying a remote base in Afghanistan with a single gallon of fuel, once all the transport and security costs are included, can cost as much as $400.
So new energy technology can mean a real difference on the battlefield in keeping our troops safe. It's also important to our broader national security. The less fuel we use, on the battlefield and on the highway, the less we depend on oil that is often imported from dangerous and unfriendly parts of the world.
And Michigan is already familiar with the economic benefits of energy breakthroughs. Efforts to improve fuel efficiency and develop advanced batteries and other technologies are creating new jobs for Michigan workers and ensuring that our domestic vehicle makers compete on a level playing field with those in other nations, which are working hard on the same technologies.
The partnership between the Army and the Department of Energy can spark breakthroughs that aid not just the military's efficiency efforts, but those in the private sector, too.
Their new partnership is all about breaking down walls. In the past, eliminating barriers to cooperation has meant great things.
Twenty years ago, the military's vehicle development was on a totally separate track from our domestic vehicle manufacturers, even though military and civilian research centers were sometimes literally next-door neighbors and working on the same technologies, such as light-weight materials and efficient engines.
But in 1993, I hosted a ceremony in which the Army and automakers signed an agreement to break down those barriers and cooperate on vehicle research and development. This new partnership has a similar goal: bringing engineering talent together to gain the benefits of cooperation.
With their new partnership, experts with the Army, the Department of Energy, our fine universities, and our great manufacturers will all work together to develop new technologies. They will make our military vehicles lighter, more efficient, and more capable, giving our troops the tools they need and deserve.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.