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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

An Unimportant Navy News Release

Pilotless aircraft in a pilot program (U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler)
Fire Scout Completes First Navy Unmanned Flight on Biofuel

To which my mind says, "So what?"

What did the testers think was going to happen? Hadn't they tested the fuel ahead of time?

If it's fuel that burns in a gas turbine, it's gas turbine fuel. I don't believe there will be much chemically different from a fuel based on petroleum. In fact, I bet it is almost like a petroleum product.

The question of whether or not Department of Navy funds should be diverted to support this "biofuel" industry is not answered by this sort of rigged test. As I've noted over and over, the U.S. has plenty of fossil fuels available to help us become energy independent - the announced goal of the Secretary of the Navy and his ultimate boss, the President. SecNav's pitch, which we heard repeatedly during a DoD Bloggers Roundtable with him earlier this year, is that he is seeking alternative fuels that, essentially, cost the "same" as fossil fuel products. Oddly enough, fossil fuels cost the same as fossil fuels and don't require a dime of Navy (taxpayer) money to develop a market or to build refineries, pipelines and the like.

The "Green" Navy and "Energy Independence" were the topics of DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. From the transcript:
SecNav: ***The most overarching or broadest goal was by no later than 2020, at least half of all Navy energy, both afloat and ashore, would come from non-fossil fuel sources. I did this to address a vulnerability. We simply buy too much petroleum from volatile places on earth, and we need to address that vulnerability to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of fuel.
My translation: "So, instead of focusing on buying fuel from non-volatile places (like say, the U.S. and Canada), we have decided create a whole new industry using your tax dollars."
The U.S. Navy's least polluting ship?
SecNav: The Navy will do two things. One is, we will make our contribution of about $170 million to help either build or retrofit biofuel plants for -- to produce biofuel. We will also be willing to sign offtake contracts so that we will provide the market for these biofuels. And finally, earlier this summer, the Defense Logistics Agency, on behalf of the Navy, issued a request for proposals for 450,000 gallons of biofuels for our test purposes, which we think is the largest biofuel purchase ever undertaken in the United States.
My translation: "Biofuel production is not 'shovel ready' so we are going to take taxpayer money and try to push production of this product into a market in which the only real demand will be the taxpayer funded military. Building plants and all that is needed to get the biofuels ready for real production has yet to be accomplished."

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. My name's Tom Goering. I'm with Navy CyberSpace, or My question is toward the funding. Well, with DOD already preparing for budget cuts of up to about $450 billion, the various programs and platforms in our Navy will feel -- obviously feel a pinch. I assume that in order to find the Navy's share of that -- those cuts, many hard choices will have to be made, and some programs will have to deal with less funding or maybe even be eliminated altogether. While going through this process, sir, how was it or how is it the Navy was able to find $170 million to repurpose? And could you please identify those specific programs that'll be affected by the repurposing of those funds? Thank you.

SEC. MABUS: To answer your question, going forward with the budget situation, the economic situation that we're in today, you're absolutely correct that a lot of hard choices are going to have to be made, and you're going to have to set priorities. And those priorities should be strategy-driven priorities. Energy and the energy vulnerability that we have is one of the highest priorities that we have here in the Department of the Navy.
And if you look at money expended versus money saved, in the next five years the money that is planned to be expended on energy and energy efficiency -- both energy efficiency and new forms of energy is -- it will nearly pay for itself in terms of savings. If you look out past five years, the savings are tremendous. They are huge for the Navy and for the Marine Corps.
So if you are looking for ways to save money, to make the most use of the money that we have, then this has to be one of our highest priorities.
In answer to your second question, we repurposed the money that would have gone for research and development or -- we were in the same ball park. We simply repurposed it for this specific charge that the president ordered us to do. And it was not -- the reason I -- the reason I emphasized that was it was not new money. We didn't have to go back and ask for additional money. We simply took some money that was going to be used to look at things like operation, maintenance and research and development, and put it here, making one of those choices that -- because this is such a high priority.
(emphasis added above) My translation: "We robbed Peter to pay Paul, and if a ship or aircraft suffers maintenance issues, well, we had higher priorities than keeping the fleet running."
Q: Hi, sir. This is Geoff Ziezulewicz with Stars and Stripes. There was a RAND report put out last year that critiqued some of these Defense Department initiatives. What do you say to one of the concerns raised in terms of the commercial viability of things like algae or camelina? You know, are these, you know, good to go right now at a -- at a cost-efficient rate and at a way that won't adversely affect greenhouse gas emissions?
Hey, nuclear powered ships meet the SecNav standards

SEC. MABUS: Well, I'm very familiar with that report. And I would just say that we disagree very basically with it for a couple of reasons. One is that a lot of the information it used we believe was completely out of date. It went against what we are actually doing. It said that you can't do X, Y or Z. And we are actively doing X, Y and Z now.
The second one is that they wrote this report and quoted my energy goals, and yet never talked to me or anyone in my (office ?). They have no idea what we were doing and yet put out the report. So we think that it's basically a very flawed report, and we are actually finding in practice that we can do a lot of these things.
In terms of biofuels in particular, camelina is what we flew the F-18 on, and it worked great. And the price of biofuels -- one of the reasons that the president charged the three agencies -- Navy, Agriculture and Energy -- to establish a nationwide biofuels industry was to be at a price point that is competitive with petroleum, and not so that we have to pay a lot of additional money for these biofuels. And we've seen even in the small amounts we're buying for testing that last year, for example, the cost -- it was cut in half. It's on track to be cut in half again this year. So while it's not at a competitive rate yet simply because there's not a big enough market, we believe that if you do create this market, which we are capable of doing in the military, that the price will be competitive with petroleum.
My translation: "Yes, that RAND report hurt because there was a lot of truth in it, so let me spin around it by vaguely suggesting it was flawed and then baffling you with B.S. about how if there were a market for biofuels, which we are trying to create using taxpayer money, then maybe the price will drop to a level where it might compete with fossil fuels, which already exist, have markets, refineries, pipelines, storage capacity and all that stuff that biofuels don't."
Q: Yes, hi. Graham Warwick, Aviation Week. Can I ask what the 500 million (dollars)-plus will be used to do? You're saying drop in fuels, and you want to establish an industry. Are you restricting it to the hydrotreated -- the HRJ class of fuels that are already approved, or could you just explain what you want to spend the money on?

SEC. MABUS: Very soon we're going to be putting out a request for proposals to industry to tell us what they would use the money -- how much money they would put up, and what they -- what sorts of technologies they would use the money toward.
The requirements that we have is that it be nationwide; that it be geographically dispersed; that it, as I said earlier, not take any money out of any land or food production; and third, that it be a drop-in fuel. We are neutral as to what that fuel is, and we are -- when we put the RFP out, we're going to be dependent on industry coming back. And the money would be spent to partner with industry, to either build new refineries for biofuels, regardless of what kind of fuels those are, or to retrofit existing refineries so that they can -- they can do some (of these things ?).
My translation: "Yes, we are starting from scratch but pretending that there is a real industry out there that $500 million dollars can influence."
Q: ***This is Eagle 1 from EagleSpeak.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I appreciate the idea of energy independence and, in the long run, probably the green fuel initiatives you have. My question is, are you at the same time encouraging domestic oil companies to develop their production levels? Are we looking at synthetic fuels from coal? Are we looking at developing the shale oil capabilities out in Wyoming as other ways to get fuel and create energy independence?

SEC. MABUS: As I said, we have been neutral in terms of what the fuels to be used are. The coal-to-oil notion, the Fischer-Tropsch process, has, at least in the initial look we've taken, gotten -- has a lot of -- a lot of issues with it in terms of the environment, in terms of cost, things like that.
But we're -- we are not -- as long as -- as long as the fuel meets those things that I -- that I set out -- that it's a drop-in fuel, that it's price competitive with petroleum today, that it (reduces ?) the carbon footprint and that it doesn't take any land out of -- or any food production out, we're certainly willing to -- we're not trying to narrow it down. But we are trying to -- we are absolutely serious about those four requirements.
My translation: "We are neutral to the extent that we are talking biofuels only and not any form of fossil fuel. [See the section that reads, "The most overarching or broadest goal was by no later than 2020, at least half of all Navy energy,* both afloat and ashore, would come from non-fossil fuel sources"] After all, right now we already have a fossil fuel industry that meets all our needs and the criteria I've set forth - no land out of food production, price comparable to petroleum and reduces the carbon footprint. We think biofuels will reduce the carbon footprint, but we are not really sure because there are lots of variables. After all, we already got burned on that ethanol stuff. However, what the President wants, I plan to deliver."

* Yes, a great deal of money also will be spent putting solar panels on Navy land and property, deploying solar panels with Marines. Some of these ideas are good and timely. Whether they can make up 50% of "Navy energy" is questionable.

I would just note that many more jobs can be "saved or created" right now by developing our domestic energy resources than these yet to be ready and scaled up green projects.

I note that DARPA has reportedly found a way to refine low cost algae bio-diesel:
Darpa’s research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a ­market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer. “Everyone is well aware that a lot of things were started in the military,” McQuiston said.
See also here. Good, I hope it's true. And I wonder what is included in those "cost" numbers?

On the other hand, Is Algae Biofuel Too Expensive? - Problems With Algae as Fuel - Popular Mechanics

1 comment:

  1. On the bright side, it didn't get bored and decide to visit DC this time.