• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Navy Pushes Biofuel Fleet Despite Concerns About Damage to Equipment

    The U.S. military is touting biofuels as a way to sever itself from diesel and other fossil fuels. While the high cost of biofuel purchases is a major roadblock to the Navy’s “Green Fleet” plans, as Scribe documented on Monday, some observers have noted a more fundamental — and troubling — problem. Biofuels may actually damage military equipment.

    Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus plans to use a 50-50 blend of conventional fuels and biofuels for his “Great Green Fleet,” a Carrier Strike Group composed of a destroyer, tanker and an aircraft carrier that are fueled by alternative energy sources. Mabus plans to have half the Navy fleet on alternative fuels by 2020.

    While congressional leaders, including Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), have balked at the high costs of biofuels at almost $27 per gallon for 450,000 gallons, other observers note the other problem: potential damage that biofuels could do to the machinery it powers.

    Rice University professor Pedro Alvarez examined the unintended consequences that might result from large-scale production and use of bioenergy in the United States, particularly ethanol, in a January 2010 study that he co-authored. The study concluded that there needs to be greater knowledge about the long-term effects of bioenergy before large-scale implementation.

    “The overall effect of using biofuels to power maritime vessels,” Alvarez told Scribe, “is high potential for corrosion on their tanks” due to high levels of bacteria in those fuels.

    Jason S. Lee, an engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, also warned of the potential for corrosion. “Susceptibility of biodiesel to … biodegradation and its propensity to stimulate biocorrosion suggest caution when integrating this alternate fuel with the existing infrastructure,” he found in a 2010 study conducted by the University of Oklahoma and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory on the impact of biodiesel on metal.

    “The blending of biodiesel with traditional diesel resulted in the first known demonstration of localized corrosion of aluminum in the fuel layer itself,” he later told Corr Defense.

    2010 study from Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center at the Oakridge National Laboratory in Tennessee raised the same concern. “Dissolved water in biofuels can … contribute to corrosion and stress corrosion cracking. Stress corrosion cracking of mild steel may be of particular concern with ethanol,” the study found.

    The Navy did not return multiple requests for comment on the potentially corrosive nature of biofuels on military equipment.

    But congressional leaders are concerned.  Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), a member of the Armed Services Committee, insists that potential side effects have not been adequately studied. “We have not examined those studies, but like anything else we do, our biggest concern is that we do the analysis before we make huge moves in either direction,” Forbes told Scribe.

    The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have approved provisions addressing the cost of biofuels in the 2013 Defense Authorization bill currently making its way through Congress. Conaway authored a provision in the bill prohibiting the Defense Department from buying alternative fuels if the cost outweighs the price of petroleum fuels. It states members’ concern about “fluctuating fuel prices, and the resulting shortfalls and impacts on the operation and maintenance accounts.”

    But Forbes noted that the Navy seems less concerned than other branches of the military – particularly the Air Force – with assessing possible unintended consequences of biofuels. “I think the Air Force’s suggestions have been a better approach,” he noted, “which is continuing to do research and development to see if they are going to have any impact on any of the engines.”

    “The frustrating thing we’ve had with the Navy at this particular point in time is that they have set these goals that are arbitrary goals,” Forbes added. “They try to establish markets that are artificial markets, but every time we ask them for the analysis to justify, they haven’t given the analysis.”

    “If someone comes up with a biofuel mix that works, and it tests and it works OK, then we’re going to buy it. But, we’re not going to artificially push that,” said Forbes.

    Melanie Wilcox is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    13 Responses to Navy Pushes Biofuel Fleet Despite Concerns About Damage to Equipment

    1. James McVaney says:

      This looks like a "hit" on the Navy program. It ignores the patently obvious, that the fuels that the Department of Defense is planning on using, and has used, is not the fuel referenced in this article. Two types of fuel have been approved for use in military jet engines: HEFA and FT SPK. Both are hydro-carbon fuels, i.e. are identical to crude oil-derived fuels…other than the fact that they are purer and appear to have better performance characteristics. FT SPK has been used by the millions of barrels in aviation elsewhere in the world and has been approved for us in ALL USAF aviation platforms. This process was started by the previous Administration as part of their energy security initiatives.

      Not a single authority or expert or decision maker is talking about putting ethanol or biodiesel in jets or tanks or ships. A thoughtful investigation of the issue would have made that obvious. I expect more from Heritage.

    2. Cliff Claven says:

      These are hydrotreated biomass feedstock fuels which, when blended 50/50 with conventional fuels, remain within military specifications. To say the biofuels are identical with conventional fuels is false. Corrosion is not the big concern, their huge negative energy balance is what should have people up in arms. Biofuels have zero chance of ever being cheaper than petroleum fuels because they are absolute parasites of petroleum in their production. They depend upon fossil fuel hydrogen and carbon for their fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, farm machinery fuel, distillation heat, and even the hydrogen gas that must be added to hydro-treat the esters and alcohols of biodiesel and ethanol into true hydrocarbon fuel "drop'in" replacements. They actually consume far more fossil fuel energy in their production than they contribute back as liquid fuel, and thereby are accelerating our use of fossil fuel and increasing our dependence upon foreign oil. Not only will their prices track up and down with the international oil market, they also track with the volatility of the global food markets because of their dependence upon the same agricultural resources and they are subject to the vagaries of the weather such as freezes and droughts (USDA calling 20M bushels of crops already lost to this year's drought). Biofuels are a thermodynamic and economic dead end. Not to mention that lifecycle analyses of their greenhouse gas emissions including CO2 from burning down forests for crop land and nitrous oxide released from fertilizer (298 times worse than CO2) show they are worse contributors to global warming than burning fossil fuel directly in their place. This is an epic scam, motivated by politics, and harmful to national security.

      • Leland64 says:

        Cliff: Great comment. A note of caution: We can't let facts stand in the way of the greenie agenda. There are way too many lefty campaign contributors to pay off and Obama's campaign needs money.

    3. allen L. says:

      Heritage, HIRE Cliff right now, This article on energy is what is needed in your profession, I would like mind readers to e-mail this as soon as possible to all the members of Congress so they can understand the problem we have in the US, no body can explain in words that the people understand.

    4. Cameron Cronkright says:

      Is this another attempt at going green with a energy policy? If so, what will it cost the American tax payer? That's right cost not save….as the prior green policies the government has implemented have worked so well. Just sayin.

    5. Roy says:

      You folks understand the difference between renewable diesel (or renewable jet) and biodiesel, right?

      The Great Green Fleet is being powered using drop-in renewable fuel. This fuel performs the same in an engine as petroleum fuel and does not cause any damage. In fact, the Air Force has publicly commented that drop in renewable jet fuel (again, the same stuff that they are using to power the Great Green Fleet) burns cleaner and causes less engine damage than petroleum fuel.

      So the "damage to equipment" tagline of this story is flat out wrong.

    6. TimAZ says:

      I don't care if this bio bs doesn't damage our naval fleet. The fiscal damage is far too great on its own standing. Not one environmental fool can argue against that unless economic destruction is their true intent. Even then their arguments are no more sound.

    7. historianMI says:

      I hope that political pressure doesn't force the Navy or Air Force to use these synthetic fuels before they are thoroughly tested for storage tank corrosion and damage to vital (and expensive) engines.

    8. Old guy says:

      It is ALL political. This sham is more means to cripple the very military that the current administration despises. Once we are weakened the Chinese, the Russians, or an errant food truck will be able to blaze across our formerly great nation.

      You might want to contact the civilian engineers who flat-out shot down the idea of using "Green fuels" in the Airbus.

    9. Leon Lundquist says:

      Because I believe Obama and his crowd of Chicago Gangsters are Domestic Enemies, this is actually a Crime, Sabotage! Sure enough! Going forward with the 'Green' Navy when it is a perfectly crazy, perfectly wrong move doing Damage to the equipment and the Navy proves Criminal Intent! Come on! These guys aren't stupid! We know that, so it has to be Sabotage! Imagine, a Policy of Sabotage which if it exists here, it exists at every reach of this government! This is a Crime!

      It is another Crime to let them get away with it! Republicans in the House are Refraining Prosecution! That is also a Crime! Don't let those RINOs get away with it! Punish these DINO Infiltrators or you are Complicit!

    10. JoeMomma says:

      The sheer dumbness of this article confounds me. They tested fatty acid methyl ester. The organisms in question hydrolyzed the biodiesel (which by definition, means only fatty acid methy (or ethyl) ester), and it was the acidic intermediates of these process that caused the metallic damage. The fuel used has an entirely different structure and cannot be hydrolyzed in similar fashion. I know people who fervently embrace one political agenda or another over simple science will latch onto anything to prove themselves right. There are many valid reasons to be against or for these fuels. This corrosion angle, however, is not one of them. Please do basic research before running with a headline.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×