These Defense Programs Changed the Landscape of Environmental and Energy Technologies as We Know It

The Defense Programs That Changed the Landscape of Environmental and Energy Technologies as We Know It

The Department of Defense prioritizes safety of course, but it’s also focusing its efforts on environmental security and innovation.

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) does not just supervise government agencies and national security, although that is an immensely important part of what it does. Now, the Department is looking for ways to make its operations that much greener for the sake of the environment and update energy infrastructure to meet optimal cybersecurity standards.

The Department is putting scientific and technological effort into a number of areas with the help of the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP). Its environmental mission aims specifically to improve the DoD’s environmental performance, reduce costs, and enhance and sustain mission capabilities. It also will take a deeper look into the replacement of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS), the chemical used in firefighting foam.

This year, for its 25th anniversary, ESTCP will host a Symposium held in Washington, D.C. from December 3 to 5 to celebrate its environmental, security and technological efforts. Jeffrey Marqusee, a senior research advisor at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wrote the following feature story to give the inside scoop on the program’s funding, collaborative work, and upcoming Symposium:

In the late 1970s, the Department of Defense (DoD) began to recognize the harsh realities of widespread environmental contamination resulting from military operations. Cleanup costs for a few hundred sites were originally estimated at $5 billion to $10 billion. As the number of identified sites ballooned to over 20,000, the cost-to-complete rates continued to grow by the billions. Standard pump and treat methods were largely ineffective, and the DoD soon realized it was not equipped with adequate technology to tackle remediation efforts. By the early 90s, increasing environmental regulation was impacting DoD’s readiness. In response, a joint environmental research and development program office was formed that developed, demonstrated and transitioned innovative and cost-effective technologies needed to address the DoD’s highest priority environmental challenges.

The Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), along with the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), have applied an innovative strategic approach that has made a lasting impact on the military and commercial industries. ESTCP was established in 1995 to exploit emerging technologies developed in the private sector, and it created a new type of partnership between military installations who host technology demonstrations, technology developers, end-users, and state and federal regulators to facilitate commercialization and acceptance of new technologies. This radically different structure transparently moves projects from the lab to the field and ultimately fosters more rapid technology transition.

SERDP was established in 1990 to address DoD environmental issues. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) share management authority and responsibility with DoD. A truly integrated program, SERDP involves all three agencies in the development of its research agenda and management of projects. Designed to address issues common across all of the Armed Services and DOE, the program is a catalyst for cooperation and collaboration.

Driven by research, development, demonstrations, and collaboration under SERDP and ESTCP, new technologies have drastically reduced the cost of environmental compliance, the hazards of environmental exposures, and the impacts to military readiness. Legacy contamination issues, such as the presence of chlorinated solvents and perchlorates in groundwater, are sustainably and cost effectively managed today. However, the mission and success of SERDP and ESTCP extend beyond environmental remediation. Technologies transitioned from ESTCP have saved the federal government billions of dollars and reduced exposure to hazardous material. The DoD and industrial aviation sectors have largely eliminated hexavalent chrome – a known carcinogen – in aircraft coatings to prevent human health and environmental risks and decrease the overall lifecycle costs with more resilient alternative coatings. ESTCP is also responsible for some of the earliest deployments of large scale microgrids to enhance energy security, and it continues to bolster DoD energy resiliency by developing cybersecurity technology needed for rising levels of interconnectivity among renewable sources. Such advances have gone far beyond the military. SERDP and ESTCP technologies can be found across the private sector protecting human and environmental health and saving the nation billions of dollars.

This year, ESTCP will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the 2019 SERDP and ESTCP Symposium held in Washington, D.C. from December 3 to 5. The Symposium fosters collaboration by bringing together environmental and energy researchers, technology developers, defense end-users and regulators – all necessary audiences for developing and adopting environmental technologies. Notable keynote speakers will highlight program accomplishments and new challenges, including the Honorable Al Shaffer, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment; the Honorable Alex Beehler, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army for Installations, Energy and Environment; the Honorable Sherri Goodman, Senior Fellow at the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program and Polar Institute and Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security); and Dr. Susan Hockfield, President Emerita, Professor of Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Author. Technical sessions, short courses and a poster session featuring over 450 current projects provide the opportunity for engaged discussion about the road ahead for environmental issues the Department faces.

Environmental challenges are constantly evolving, which require a more robust and concerted effort to better understand the risks imposed on human health, the environment, and military readiness. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have emerged as a toxic threat contaminating our waterways, and the costs of cleanup are already on the rise. Under the continued occurrence of extreme weather events, military installations will face massive costs to rebuild – like Tyndall Air Force Base – if we do not invest in resilient infrastructure and assess potential vulnerabilities. In both cases, SERDP and ESTCP have already backed efforts to analyze the impacts of climate change and coastal stressors on numerous military installations, and build a foundational understanding of the occurrence, fate and transport of PFAS.

SERDP and ESTCP have proven that success lies in communication and collaboration across sectors. Matched up against skyrocketing remediation and rebuilding costs, technology transfer in the energy and environmental fields is a necessity for the DoD and the nation.

About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee is a senior research advisor at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and former Executive Director of SERDP and ESTCP. Prior to joining NREL he served as a Chief Scientist at Noblis, a nonprofit science, technology, and strategy organization.

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