US Air Force Energy Policy
As was the case in previous ones, my comments on this article will rather be limited. Therefore this piece should be considered as a vague literature survey. All my comments will start with the last piece on these series - Pentagon and Peak Oil.
The official mission statement of the Air Force is “to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests—to fly and fight in air, space, and cyberspace.”
To support that mission Air Force Energy Strategy has four legs: Make energy a consideration in all Air Force actions; Promote a culture where Airmen conserve energy; Accelerate development and use of alternative fuels; Mitigate energy-related critical infrastructure vulnerabilities (procure 100,000 gallons natural gas SynFuel in FY06).
The Air Force has two service centers that have expertise in providing technical support. The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency is the primary technical expert on energy-related issues for the Air Force. The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence fills a supporting role when energy issues involve environmental concerns.
The mission of the United States Air Force, “to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interest,” is both highly technical and energy intensive.
It is said that air superiority has taken its place among the top priorities of present-day combat, but that comes with a price.
Air Force is the largest energy consumer in DoD with a fuel bill cost of $10 million per day. Its facilities account for 16 percent of Air Force energy usage; ground vehicle and equipment account for 2 percent of usage. Air Force spends more than $1.2 billion a year on facility energy and fuels its ground fleet.
(Figure: Fuel cost and gallon per flying hour; Source: The Air Force Energy Strategy for the 21st Century presentation)
(Figure: Total Aviation fuel cost; Source: The Air Force Energy Strategy for the 21st Century presentation)
(Figure: Aviation fuel consumption in gallons; Source: The Air Force Energy Strategy for the 21st Century presentation)
The Air Force began looking at alternative fuel vehicles in 1992. Air Force Renewable Energy Program brochure is short but it is a high class report that should be praised.
In 2005, 11% of all electrical usage by the Air Force came from renewable sources. AF is also the leading purchases of renewable energy in federal government, accounting for nearly 50% of all green power purchases by the federal government.
There are more than 92,000 vehicles and hundreds of thousands of pieces of support equipment in the Air Force’s inventory that rely on oil. Therefore, Air Force is currently testing and developing several innovative methods of powering ground vehicles, such as the use of synthetic fuels, hydrogen and hybrid diesel-electric power.
In 1997, the first electric vehicles began service in the Air Force, also it began purchasing pick-up trucks that used compressed natural gas. By 1999, “flex fuel” vehicles that could use either petroleum or biofuels (such as E-85, ethanol and B-20) were introduced.
Besides, Air Force is working towards developing additional synthetic fuels, such as fuel made from liquefied coal. Synthetic fuels from bio-mass sources, including agricultural and wood products, will provide additional renewable availability.
A January 2006 “quick look” study by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board examined several potential alternative fuels for Air Force use. The one option it listed as available in the near term (defined as the next 0 to 5 years) was conversion of coal into synthetic fuel using the FT process. Other options — oil shale, LNG, ethanol blends, and biodiesel — was presented as mid-term options (defined in the study as the next 5 to 15 years). Two more options — biomass black liquor fuels and hydrogen fuel for turbine engines — were presented as far-term options (more than 15 years).
The initial contract for unconventional fuel for the tests will be signed with Syntroleum Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahama, which has provided synthetic fuel for testing by the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Defense since 1998.
Moreover, the Air Force is experimenting with new types of jet fuel, including natural gas and coal. This summer a B-52 will fly on fuel made from natural gas, probably at Edwards Air Force Base, California, officials say. The B-52, from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., won’t need any adaptations to its engines or fuel system to accommodate the blend of 50 percent JP-8 jet fuel and 50 percent natural gas-based fuel.
In many places in Air Force sites related to energy it is claimed that Air Force goes Green.
But Colonel Fullerton does not think that Air Force will be able to go green. He argues that “USAF aircraft in the twenty-first century will burn jet fuel, just as they did in the last half of the twentieth century,” because “the transition to new energy sources will take an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary path.”
He concludes that “Even if new technologies enable hydrogen- or nuclear-powered aircraft, they will remain small in number because our inventory of B-1s, B-2s, C-17s, C-130s, F-15s, F-16s, F‑22s, F-35s, KC-10s, RQ-1s, RQ-4s, T-1s, T-6s, T-38s, and other aircraft is simply too large and expensive for the taxpayer to replace. Fifty years from now, the Air Force will probably do many things very differently, but if flying is still part of our mission, we will certainly notice the prominent smell of jet fuel around our hangars and runways.”
One thing is clear, if DoD wants to reduce its energy consumption it should start with the Air Force.
See you where parallels intersect.
 Briefing by Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, “Technology Options for Improved Air Vehicle Fuel Efficiency, A ‘Quick Look’ Study, January 26, 2006. The results were presented on 10 April 2006 (not available to public).
 Laura M. Colarusso, Alternative fuels in jets’ future: Officials say move may reduce costs, limit reliance on foreign oil sources, Times, 22 May 2006.
 Richard Fullerton, “The Future: Oil, America, and the Air Force,” Air & Space Power Journal. Winter 2005.