Posting in Energy
A RAND Corporation report tells the Armed Forces that biofuels will not help them achieve their military or emissions goals. In response, the Navy sticks to its green guns.
President Obama declared a "Sputnik moment" in last night's State of the Union speech and promised a budget that would focus on clean energy technology. He also proposed deep cuts, which he said included some unnecessary spending by the Department of Defense.
Whether those cuts would include the Armed Forces' clean energy programs is unclear, but earlier yesterday the RAND Corporation made some suggestions on how the DOD might rethink their green strategy.
The Air Force, Marines, Navy and Army have spent many millions to shrink their carbon bootprint and achieve energy independence through various means—jets flying on biofuel, solar-powered camps, better battery packs, solar parking lots for bases at home.
The report, which had been mandated by Congress, focused on whether the alternative and synthetic fuels currently in development could satisfy military and environmental needs. Taking commercial viability, affordability, and environmental impact into account, it concluded that biofuels—via feedstocks of vegetable oils, animal fats, camelina, soybeans, jatropha, algae—would not improve tactical military operations. They might eventually, however, benefit the nation as a whole through their civilian use.
James Bartis, the study's lead author, says in a statement:
To realize the national benefits of alternative fuels, the military needs to reassess where it is placing its emphasis in both fuel testing and technology development. Too much emphasis is focused on seed-derived oils that displace food production, have very limited production potential and may cause greenhouse gas emissions well above those of conventional petroleum fuels.
For instance, to replace jet fuels JP-8 and JP-5 or naval distillate F-76, the fuels in question must emit equal or less amounts of greenhouse gases over the course of their life cycle, from how they are grown, processed, and transported to how cleanly they burn.
The issue often lied in how potentially bountiful the feedstocks were, and not on whether the fuels actually worked. Jatropha and camelina, which are not food plants, would produce just 200,000 barrels a day, says the report. Animal fats and waste oils would top out at 30,000 barrels daily.
Not shockingly, the Advanced Biofuels Association was not happy. Its president Michael McAdams said the study "embraces the failed energy policies of the past." Some Navy officials were "vehemently" in disagreement with the findings, too. ClimateWire quotes Tom Hicks, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary of energy:
We have been engaged with the biofuels industry. We know what they are capable of doing, and we are confident they will be able to deliver the fuels at the quantities and at the price point we need.
For military purposes, RAND recommends the DOD concentrate on energy efficiency and perhaps, Fischer-Tropsch fuels. Such fuels can use feedstocks of biomass or coal or a blend of both. Coal-based FT fuels, unsurprisingly, are heavy on the greenhouse gas emissions. Their use would require carbon capture and sequestration methods to meet the DOD's pollution targets. CCS, of course, is not yet proven economically either. As for biomass feedstocks of FT fuels, the land-use practices that produce them would need to be sustainable for them to be an option for the military's green aspirations.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- DARPA funds $1.7 million for new ultracapacitor
- US Army finds energy independence in their tents
- Marines to perform reconnaissance for solar in Afghanistan
- Fighter jet takes to the sky with biofuel blend
Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.
Jan 25, 2011
The fact that these machines launch missiles with lots of nasty explosives, chemicals and even nuclear warheads into other people's countries seems to be a point that is missed by the author. If the US military wants to save the planet they would be better off withdrawing their troops from the expansionist programs in the oil producing countries and depleting the atmosphere in their own back yard.
No. Just because the oil companies see the losses in profits and the military not dependent on oil is no reason the stop research. It is a good time to get rid of the politicians trying to stop the research.
Actually there is a simple solution - nuclear biofuels. Grow switchgrass or some other plant that grabs a lot of carbon out of the air, then burn it to CO and combine with high temperature steam heated by nuclear energy. The result is synthetic oil, or natural gas, depending on how you tweak the process. The energy stored in the oil is from the nuclear source, the bio part of the fuel is just the chemical source for carbon. The Germans used this process in World War II, using coal as the carbon source and the heat source. It has been used continually ever since to create synthetic fuels, and is in use today. The only difference I am proposing is to use biological sources for the carbon, and nuclear energy (the cheapest form of heat int he world) for the heat source.
The military, if taken as a single entity, is the biggest user of oil products in the US. It would be good if it was greener & it would be good to have a fuel reserve, but the Pentagon would like to have some insulation between the price of crude oil & the cost of fueling its vehicles.
The US has always kept a strategic reserve of oil in case of war, but a bio-fuel fallback option must always be in hand. For strategic reasons the US should always have the technology available to ramp up bio-fuel production in less than 6 months if needed by political or military circumstances. The oil reserve is supposed to cover us for at least that long. And the use of food stocks for bio-fuel should be out of the question. Food for fuel should not be a option. The current use of corn for ethanol is proof of the stupidity of that move as demonstrated by the rising fuel and food prices fueled by the corn for ethanol mandate. Eco nuts have to face it. To cut over normal military fuel use to bio-fuel might not be practical, as the reports states.