Friday, August 19, 2011

Background: "Biofuels of No Benefit to Military" says Rand. Navy rejects report.

Back in January 2011, the New York Times published an article on a controversy brewing on the subject of biofuels and the military, in which the headline read Biofuels of No Benefit to Military -- RAND. The Times reported the report stated,
Fuels made from plant waste or algae will not be achievable in large or cheap enough quantities to make sense for military applications in the next decade, concluded the report penned by the RAND Corporation.

"The use of alternative fuels offers the armed services no direct military benefit," it added, urging the military and Congress to rethink dedicating defense appropriations to alternative fuels research.

Though the Defense Department has said using more renewable energy will reduce the need for fuel convoys in the battle zone, RAND questions biofuel's role in that effort, saying that any alternative fuels -- either with biofuel blends or coal-to-liquid technology -- would still require those fuel convoys or compound logistical challenges on the front lines.
According to the Times, the U.S. Navy vigorously rejected the Rand report:
The Navy, which has been on the front lines of biofuel research, blasted the findings. Tom Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy, said that the findings do not "square with what we have encountered or heard from industry."

"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," he said. The Navy is calling for 8 million barrels of biofuel per year by 2020, he said.

Ultimately, the best processes and feedstocks will rise to the surface, but Fischer-Tropsch won't work for us, said Hicks. "We are going to continue on with what we're doing. It's the right thing to do for energy independence and energy security, and for us it's about enhancing warfighter capabilities," he said.
You can decide for yourself starting with reading the Rand report which is available here. Here is one excerpt:
Defense Department goals for alternative fuels in tactical weapon systems should be based on potential national benefits, since the use of alternative, rather than petroleum-derived, fuels offers no direct military benefits. While Fischer-Tropsch fuels and hydrotreated renewable fuels are no less able than conventional fuels to meet the Defense Department’s needs, they offer no particular military benefit over their petroleum-derived counterparts. For example, even if alternative fuels can be produced at costs below the prevailing costs for conventional fuels, they will be priced at market rates. Also, we are unable to find any credible evidence that sources to produce jet or naval distillate fuel will run out in the foreseeable future. If conflict or a natural disaster were to abruptly disrupt global oil supplies, the U.S. military would not suffer a physical shortage. Rather, the resulting sharp increase in world prices would cause consumers around the world to curb use of petroleum products. Less usage would ensure that supplies remained available. As long as the military is willing to pay higher prices, it is unlikely to have a problem getting the fuel it requires. If problems do arise, the Defense Production Act of 1950 (P.L. 81-774) contains provisions for performance on a priority basis of contracts for the production, refining, and delivery of petroleum products to the Defense Department and its contractors.

Nevertheless, despite the absence of a specific military benefit, there are nationally important benefits to be gained from the use of alternative fuels. If the Department of Defense were to encourage early production experience, government decisionmakers, technology developers, and investors would obtain important information about the technical, financial, and environmental performance of various alternative fuel options. If favorable, that information could lead to a commercial alternative-fuels industry producing strategically significant amounts of fuel in the United States. Once established, a large, commercially competitive alternative fuel industry in the United States and abroad would weaken the ability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to assert its cartel power. Lower world oil prices would yield economic benefits to all fuel users—civilian and military alike. Lower prices would also decrease the incomes of “rogue” oil producers, and thereby likely decrease financial support to large terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah.
Now, go read it. Read Galrahn's positve view on the Navy's move.

Then, I suggest you read my post on how much proven and retrievable energy the U.S. has without using Navy money to funding biofuel research here. See U.S. Tops in Energy Resources

You will note that I am not saying that algae biofuels may not be a great and wonderful thing. Someday.

But . . . I agree with the Rand report.

1 comment:

  1. I'd be willing to bet that there's some black budget money in that fuel cost.

    Probably a bit of Marine Corps spaceplane and a smidge of microdrone funding slipped in.

    Not tay that the algae guys aren't making out like bandits. I think they're also getting a sweetheart deal on BLM land in the desert for their reactors.