Posting in Energy
Is the Navy's renewable energy investment in jeopardy?
The average member of the military may not know the difference between fossil fuels and modern, sustainable biofuel, but when it comes to financing such transitions, governmental budgets and the overall economy of a country can feel the pinch.
In the U.S. military, a number of vehicles have been tested and modified to support biofuels -- from the use of sugarcane to algae and animal waste. However, the cost of producing and transporting such fuel in comparison to standard oil can resort in exponential expenditure.
As Wired notes, the costs in this highly experimental industry are coming down gradually, as biofuel production structures and full-scale production areas are put in place. However, as one example highlights, the cost in relative terms is still extremely high. The Navy is paying approximately $12 million to purchase 450,000 gallons of biofuel to power a carrier strike group in Hawaii, which works out at $26.6-per-gallon. Compare this to $2.50 a gallon for petroleum, and the problem is obvious.
The service plans to spend $300 million on alternative fuels over the next five years, and spent $17 billion on oil alone last year. In the midst of a fragile economy, keeping the transition going to use more expensive energy sources may not be the best financial option.
However, making the decision to move towards sustainable sources -- especially as it costs organisations like the military millions whenever petroleum raises slightly in price -- will offer a return, just not in the short-term.
The airline industry is another user of biofuels and will be one of the largest consumers in the future. Honeywell's Jim Rekoske, whose company last year launched the first transatlantic flight which used a 50-50 blend of petroleum and biofuel said:
"We are at the infancy of advanced biofuels. We are still very early in that maturity curve and we need to make sure we understand that. We will get there. We will move down on the cost scale, but it’s going to take time and it takes further investment."
However, there may be a spanner in the works when it comes to organisations using such fuel -- especially if they are government-ran instead of private corporations. The problem is, when the main consumer bodies are restricted, the development and research of such fuels will be limited as a result.
Congressional Republicans have voted to effectively ban the military from purchasing a number of biofuels, in order to limit operational costs. The panel voted this month to prevent the military from either making or purchasing biofuel that costs more than "traditional fossil fuel" -- effectively barring them from the use of any type of new, experimental sustainable energy source.
As petroleum-based fuels, even with their ever-increasing rises in price will always be cheaper since the small, alternative market could never hope to compete, the military have now effectively had their wings clipped. It is a standard that biofuels cannot support -- and so furthering research in the field will suffer as a result.
Committee Republicans, including Rep. Randy Forbes, insist that while sustainable energy is important, other issues have to take priority. Forbes said earlier this year:
"Now, look, I love green energy. It's a matter of priorities. I understand that alternative fuels may help our guys in the field, but wouldn’t you agree that the thing they’d be more concerned about is having more ships, more planes, more prepositioned stocks?"
If the voted measure becomes law, then this arguably over-simplistic view has the potential to suffocate the already small biofuel industry -- scuppering research, which will lead to stalling in cost-cutting and being able to maintain industries that require vast amounts of fuel in the future.
Image credit: Flickr
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The accusation that military biofuel projects are part of a larger "green" agenda is the product of politics. Biofuels have the potential of providing the services with a fuel supply insulated from oil price spikes. This is counter to the implication that increased domestic oil production will result in lower consumer fuel & heating oil prices. The services are very much aware that increased domestic oil production does not translate into lower fuel prices because oil prices are determined by the global market. Domestic oil companies will not provide discounts to domestic buyers, private or government, good times or bad. A political crisis in or near an oil producing region could simultaneously cause oil prices to spike & force the services to buy more fuel for operations. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not & should not be casually used every time prices rise. Unit costs are always higher during the R&D phase of new tech. $12M is a relatively cheap experiment for a $700B department that is the biggest single fuel consumer in the USA. Any environmental benefits are a welcome byproduct but they are not the impetus for biofuel research.
If the current plan is to spend $300 million on biofuel research over 5 years that comes to $60 million per yer out of the Navy's $149 billion budget or roughly .04%. That doesn't seem significant enough to justify the level of outrage in many of the posted comments. That's certainly not "sending the whole fleet out with them". I think the idea is that the military does not want to be dependent upon a source of energy that is both primarily foreign in origin as well as of arguably dwindling supply so they'd like to do some research into alternatives. Using a tiny part of the budget for such research, even if it's not yet economically viable, doesn't seem like all that terrible of an idea. Since the results of that research could benefit all the rest of society it may turn out to be a very good investment which I think is what was meant by the comparison to GPS. Personally I'm less concerned about the pollution side of things than about simply having sustainable access to fuel but I believe ideally in the process of "growing" biofuel most of the raw ingredients should get pulled out of the atmosphere so putting them back there later should have less of an impact than digging them out of the ground. I understand it's a lot more complicated than that which is why I said "less of an impact" and I also realize that current biofuel technologies may not be anywhere close to that point but that's why it's considered research. If there was outrage over research into a particular technology that any logical person could see has no promise of ever reaching the intended goals then that would be reasonable. However, that's not the point of this article which is about banning research into all alternative fuel technologies regardless of their potential future rewards.
When I read that the Navy had aggressive renewable goals I was excited. Now I'm depressed and angry. I really thought the one thing everyone could agree on was that sending over a trillion dollars per year to OPEC and depending on foreign fuel supplies was short sighted and risky. I figured that the investments and goals the Navy set forth made good sense from a risk standpoint. I was also excited because to reach those goals, they would need to accelerate progress on renewables as a huge side benefit. We are at the edge of the Petri dish folks - it is time to change and now.
If bio based fuels produced less CO2 I could see a reason to prefer it over oil based fuels. But given the same vehicles are burning a fuel, I rather doubt it. In the short term, paying more for the same or worst pollution does not make sense. Where is our common sense? I don't see any wisdom in paying more for the same result.
"The Navy is paying approximately $12 million to purchase 450,000 gallons of biofuel to power a carrier strike group in Hawaii, which works out at $26.6-per-gallon. Compare this to $2.50 a gallon for petroleum, and the problem is obvious." So... you want the military to increase their fuel expenditures by 1000%? And at the same time, complain about the too-large military budget? Wake up, smell the coffee, sit down, and starting thinking rationally.
That doesn't quite make sense. Are you speaking of diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel, etc? None of which, is remotely close to $2.50 a gallon. By the way, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline in Hawai'i, regular unleaded, right now is $4.48.
All of the people screaming about how much of the budget is sucked up by the military need to do the math. If just half of the militarys oil was replaced with bio-fuel that $17 billion in fuel costs for 2011 will become over $70 billion. I will go for it only if the extra money comes out of the the presidents green agenda budget and not the miltary budget. The eco nazis out there had better not even think about bashing the growth of military spending if this is forced on them.
Bio-fuel testing within the military has been ongoing for over 60 years. Until this year it has always been a cheap proposition funded for less than $10 million a year. The testing was limited to short term testing of existing and new technologies to make sure that the equipment was multi-fuel capable. My father did it after WW II and I did it 40 years later. The Cummins 903 diesels I worked on could use standard diesel fuel, JP5 jet fuel or bio-fuel. Every year we would run a week long operation with some vehicles using JP5 and others using bio-fuel. The same type of multi-fuel compatibility testing was completed on all running hardware from generators and welders to tanks and bulldozers. The Navy would test a small ship with a partial load of fuel. All of the equipment was then inspected for signs of abnormal wear. The AOAP program ran spectrographic tests on oil samples to look for the wear at the microscopic level. That was it. The testing did not need to go beyond that point. There is a ton of data on hand for how bio-fuel burns in military hardware. Extensive long term testing is completed as part of the readiness process for new equipment before it is fully deployed. Extensive testing does not need to be completed annually. The data already exists. Buying 450,000 gallons of fuel for a single ship test was unheard of and quite honestly a waste of time and money. Unless of course you are paying back 2008 campaign supporters with the bio-fuel purchase or making an election year political statement to the green supporters you have been largely ignoring for 3 years. With the exception of attempting to cancel the Keystone pipeline.
An $800 toilet seat might only be 0.0000000000000000000001 percent of the defence budget, but that does not mean I have to agree to spending $800 for a toilet seat. Paying over $20 a gallon for fuel is stupid when there are other alternative technologies to be explored with that R&D money. In case you did not know it, but many ships in the fleet are already hybrids. They burn fuel in turbines to generate electricy to run electric motors. With the exception of the nuclear aircraft carriers, nuclear subs and a handful of conventional powered ships launched in the past 5 years, the propulsion technology on most of the ships in the fleet is older than that in use on most cruise ships built over the last 10 years. Efficiencies can be gained that will show a real reduction in the amount of fuel used. So if the day comes when bio-fuel is more affordable we will need less of it to power the fleet.
"sending over a trillion dollars per year to OPEC" What are you talking about? We bought 1,654,959 barrels of oil from OPEC in 2011. Oil is priced at $107 per barrel right now. Using these numbers, you can see we spent approximately $177,080,613 on oil from OPEC in 2011. Even if we had spent this amount every year since we gained independence (which is completely ridiculous), we would have spent but $41,791,024,668. This is not even close to a trillion ($1,000,000,000,000). The real "short sighted and risky" thing to do would be to spend 10x as much on fuel for little to no gain. Sources: http://184.108.40.206/dnav/pet/pet_move_impcus_a2_nus_ep00_im0_mbbl_a.htm http://www.oil-price.net/
Further, it found that three-quarters of the American public believes the U.S. government ???should assume that oil is running out and will need to be replaced as a primary source of energy,??? and that large majorities are worried about environmental damage, and the destabilizing effects of impending energy shortages and higher prices. http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/the-energy-transition-juggernaut/493?tag=nl.e660
Using biofuels releases equivalent amounts of CO2 as fossil fuels but the CO2 from biofuels is from carbon that is already in the active carbon cycle, not carbon that has been buried for hundreds of millions of years. Biofuels are basically carbon neutral because the plants they are made from absorbed that carbon from the atmosphere before the were processed into fuel. So the answer is that biofuels don't exacerbate the CO2 problem like fossil fuels.
...you don't work for the government. [i]I don't see any wisdom in paying more for the same result.[/i]
They're talking about jet fuel, the stuff that our fighters, bombers, attack, helicopter, spy and transport aircraft use, plus a lot of ground equipment...
You forget that the military doesn't have to pay the gas taxes like normal customers do. Also, they often buy the fuel at wholesale prices directly from the refineries.
The Keystone pipeline has not been cancelled. It has just been delayed for further study.There were objections including from the Governor to the proposed route through Nebraska's sand hills. I believe a portion of it from Oklahoma into Texas has been approved. But anyone who thinks the Keystone pipeline is going to lower gas prices is dreaming. In fact it will likely raise gas prices in the upper Midwest because right now that's were the oil the pipeline will carry is being delivered to. Once the pipeline is built the Midwest will have to compete with the rest of the world for that oil.
The navy uses an entirely different class of fuel oils for its ships. Depending on the power planet, standard engines or turbines, the ships use a variety of fuels ranging from # 5 bunker fuel to F-76 and NSFO. All of which have civilian market counter parts that cost much more because of taxes. Military fuels are undyed to discourage the illegal sale of untaxed fuel to civilians. If a civilian ship is caught with undyed fuel the fines for both the ship owner and the fuel seller are steep. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/systems/fuel-oil.htm
We didn't test Kelvar, GPS or modern rockets by sending the whole fleet out with them untested and at such and instant increase in cost or while so much of America wasn't working with the Govenment so far in the hole. This expense will really look logical (ya right) when the take the billions away from the DoD because of no budget and sequestered funds.
Adjusted for inflation kevlar vests are not much more expensive than the flak jackets of WW II with far better performance to justify any cost increase. GPS is new tech that did not directly replace anything. It augmented exiting navigational and targeting systems. Any military unit using GPS still teaches land navigation with a compass and a map. They still teach artillery ballistics even as they deploy GPS enabled smart rounds as a small percentage of the artillery rounds used. They still teach the ballistics of a falling iron dumb bomb because they still build them even as the next generation JDAMs are being built. Even now the Air Force is trending back toward using standalone inertial navigation systems in its smart weapons because of the recognized vulnerabilities in GPS systems. And do not confuse rockets with missiles. Big difference. Guided or smart missiles replaced dumb rockets in many weapons systems. On both air to ground and ground to ground systems. Again a change in technology to get a substantial leap in weapon performance. A fuel is a fuel. There is no tactical military advantage to using bio-fuel. No increased range, no increased speed or any other improved performance metric to justify the additional cost. If we were talking a quantum nuke powered tank it would be a whole different story. Bio-fuel has been around since WW I as a war time only fuel of last resort because of the cost. The billions proposed for this transition would be better spent improving fuel efficiencies on current fuel technologies and long term alternate power options like fuel cells and/or improved energy storage methods to allow electric or hybrid drive units to power our ground vehicles. If the Air Force really has the rumored quantum reactor powered Global Hawk flying, that and UAVs might be the future of air combat. The bottom line is the billions would be better spent elsewhere instead of making a GREEN statement.
And we'd already be half-way to the next recession, instead of muddling along in the "new normal". All the neo-Keynesians have done is turn cyclical unemployment into structural unemployment. We really are like Europe now. It's the "fundamental change" many voted for, but didn't really understand. Enjoy.
Keynesian monetary & fiscal policy making our dollars worthless is what is making oil seem expensive. It has relatively little to do with supply. There's no amount of drilling or mining that can keep up with that.
Bio-fuel testing in the military has been ongoing since WW II because it is a fuel of last resort. I did testing with it in armored vehicles in the 1980s during my time served. Congress, and do not be fooled by the bias reporting there are Democrats on board with this effort, is trying to block the very expensive wholesale migration of the fleet to bio-fuel. Bio-fuel can also be tested in smaller vessels with similar power plants. The size of this test is strictly being done to make a political statement in an election year and pad political supporters pockets with the large bio-fuel purchase. Just as the no payback conditions of the Solyndra loan was political payback. The green agenda is nothing but pork.
GPS navigation still has not replaced conventional air traffic control systems as the global standard in commercial or private aviation. Raytheon has been working on that project for over 15 years and it is still not ready for prime time. Headlines like that pop-up every few years to keep the funding going to the program, but GPS is still not the standard in aviation navigation. It will likely be another 10 years at best. If the GPS satellite system is still in place then. But that could be another article for another day. And this Navy bio-fuel purchase is not R&D. There is no research going on here. There are archives with decades worth of performance data on the use of bio-fuels in thousands of types of military hardware. Nothing new is being learned here. Please stop calling it R&D. They are lying when they call it R&D. You are proving yourself to be a mindless intellectual and political drone by parroting them. At best this is a blatant GREEN political statement made by purchasing overpriced bio-fuel to buy votes from bio-fuel supporters like yourself. At worst it is just another payback to a friend of the White House for their support in 2008 and to buy support for 2012. Either way, it is election year politics at it finest.
radar. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-07-23/tech/planes.gps.upgrade_1_controllers-gps-air-traffic?_s=PM:TECH Adjusted for inflation, today's kevlar is price competitive, but the cost of research into it would not have made kevlar a reality, if you take the approach that billions in R&D spending is a waste.