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  • Military Biofoolishness

    Though the military has an impressive record for developing technologies to meet its frequently unique requirements, adopting biofuels is unlikely to help meet any mission other than earning political brownie points.

    There are three reasons offered for why the military should spend money on biofuel development: (1) reducing battlefield exposure for fuel transportation, (2) decreasing dependence on volatile petroleum markets, and (3) restricting funding for hostile regimes and terrorist organizations. However, conventional fuels offer superior solutions for all three goals.

    Switching to biofuels to reduce expensive and dangerous convoys makes no sense at all for one simple reason: Biofuels have lower energy density than conventional fuels and so will require more expensive and dangerous convoys. Biofuels are not produced at the battlefield.

    The problem with dependence on volatile commodity markets is that commodity prices sometimes spike upwards. But the biofuels are more costly than the petroleum-based fuels—even when petroleum prices are high. Switching to more costly substitutes is hardly a reasonable solution. The Air Force spends about $35 per gallon for its bio jet fuel—10 times the cost of conventional fuel.

    The entire U.S. military currently consumes about 360,000 barrels per day of petroleum-based fuel, with 175,000 barrels per day (or less) going to the Air Force’s jets. A single platform in the Gulf of Mexico (Thunderhorse) produces as much petroleum as these jets consume and at a much lower cost than the biofuel replacements.

    The Keystone XL Pipeline would bring enough petroleum from a very secure Canada to meet our total military consumption two or three times over. The same story holds for other potential sources of conventional petroleum, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    The Air Force’s target is to replace about 26,000 barrels per day with biofuels. Whatever energy security that may provide could be doubled by a single well in the Gulf of Mexico.

    As a strategic policy, switching the military to biofuels can only make our enemies think we are not serious. If the entire military consumption were switched away from petroleum, that would cut worldwide demand by 0.4 percent. This cut would reduce revenues to oil producers by about 1.5 percent. Let’s hope biofuels are not anti-terrorism Plan A.

    Though some energy technologies that are too expensive for general civilian use may make sense for the military, biofuels are not among them. The military needs to rethink its biofuels program.

    Cross-posted from National Journal.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Military Biofoolishness

    1. allen says:

      The rollover for Snyfuel is going to happen in 2012, This is fuel made from coal, the test were run at the US Airforce in Great Falls,Mt. The rumor was to produce enough of this fuel ito use in the Jet bombers? The Germans were using this syn fuel during WWII.

    2. Suzanne Hunt says:

      You need to do your homework. Ethanol has lower fuel density than conventional gasoline, but the military doesn’t use ethanol in tanks, planes or ships. The "advanced drop-in" renewable fuels that the military is currently testing and certifying do have the same energy density as the conventional fuels that they are being blended with. The fuel convoy threat that the military faces is being dealt with via solar panels and batteries not biofuels. The marine corps has already deployed solar/battery systems at some of their forward operating bases with good results. In addition to reducing their fuel delivery vulnerability and costs, the panels are cooler and quieter than the diesel gen sets. You are correct that commodity price risk is a serious challenge (both upstream and downstream), but the huge advantage and potential of advanced biofuels is that they are made via a suite of technologies that make it possible to use an array of inputs or “feedstocks,” including various wastes, that are not currently subject to the same commodity price risk. It is also possible for biorefiners produce (or otherwise control) their own feedstock so that they’re not competing for inputs in commodity markets. The high prices that the military has paid for advanced biofuels have been for very small batches of fuel for testing and certification. The advanced biofuels industry is nearly totally pre-commercial currently. It cannot scale up and drive costs down – like any other industry – until these fuels are tested and certified. Someone has to pay for that work, and as you eluded to, this is a role that the military has played in the past with huge benefits to the American people and economy once the technologies are fully commercialized. You also neglected to mention that the oil mined in Canada will be sold into a global market and therefore expanding pipeline capacity will not reduce our military or our nation’s vulnerability to oil prices spikes. The Navy alone had a $1 BILLION budget shortfall last year due to the (average $38/barrel) increase in oil prices last year. When this happens the military either has to ask the American taxpayers for more money or reduce their steaming, flying, or equipping of our service men and women.

    3. Sandy Caruso says:

      If we didn't get into these wars in the first place there would be no need of complicated re-supply issues. Put the ones who start these silly wars into a locked cage and don't let them come out until they have settled their differences. Why should innocent soldiers be sent into battle with one hand tied behind their back for decades of useless fighting? It is a waste of the ultimate proportion.

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