Monday, October 02, 2006

Hearing on DoD Energy Consumption

On September 26, 2006, the House Armed Services Subcommittees on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities and Readiness held a joint hearing to assess the DOD’s efforts at reducing energy consumption, increasing energy efficiency, and developing alternate fuel sources.

Below are the main messages (according to me) in the written testimonies of the witnesses.

John Young, Director of Defense Research and Engineering and Phil Grone, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment (DoD) submitted a joint testimony (pdf) which starts with an overview of US military energy consumption. Mobility fuels (for aircrafts, ships and vehicles) with 74%, and buildings and facilities with 22% account almost all DoD energy usage. In terms of fuel types, jet fuel[1] accounts for 58%, marine diesel 13%, electricity 11%, fuel oil 3% and gasoline 2.3% of total energy consumption.

They then mention the DoD energy initiatives such as the Defense Science Board Task force on DoD Energy Strategy and the Energy Security Task Force (later on they suggest new ones). But the table presenting DoD’s plans to invest $2.2 billion on energy related efforts between FY2007 and FY2011 is not discussed. Instead they mention that the DoD reduced facilities energy use by 28% in 2005 (compared to 1985 baseline measured by energy use per square foot), and that installations received almost 9% of their electricity from renewables which is targeted to be increased to 25% by 2025, and that use of more efficient power sources, such as batteries, transportable hybrid electric power stations and fuel cells are further studied.

They see turbine engine technologies as key for improving specific fuel consumption up to 25% but full engine demonstrations are expected not before 2014. Investment in research on lightweight materials and structures, such as the application of carbon-fiber reinforced composites and titanium alloys (alternative to steel), will reduce the cost and hence will enable those expensive aerospace materials affordably used in ground vehicles and ships.

Concerning non-tactical vehicle fleet on installations, they talk about the new vehicles running on alternative fuels and on technologies that many increase fuel efficiency.
An important part of the testimony is the recent synfuel test on B-52 and the DESC request for information to determine industry capability to produce 200 million gallons of synthetic jet fuel[2] beginning in January 2009.

Richard Connelly, Director of DESC, testified (pdf) about the, “significant interest” with 28 firms responding to that request, 22 of them intended to manufacture synthetic fuel. 20 of them proposed using the Fisher-Tropsch Coal-to-Liquid process. In the testimony he gives the risk mitigation requirements identified by the respondents before they could engage in such a development: long term contracts (15 to 25 years) with guaranteed minimum annual DoD purchases at a guaranteed minimum price, with possibly including tax credit, loan guarantees and no carbon sequestration requirement in the contract. In other words, they simply asked the DoD to assume most (if not all) of the risk by exposing the Pentagon to a significant risk of paying much more than the market price for fuel. Connelly gives the crude oil price threshold to support development in the future to be in the $53-$57 per barrel range. He concludes that if the desired end is to mitigate the price fluctuations it is good, but if the desired end is solely to promote an industry then the cost to taxpayers may be significant.

Michael Aimone, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installations and Mission Support, USAF, highlighted (pdf) the vision of the new Air Force energy strategy: “creating as culture where Airmen make energy a consideration in every action.” The strategy is to develop future fuel sources for assured mobility and to promote strong demand side conservation initiatives. After citing the recent synfuel test of a B-52 he stated the goal of the Air Force to have at least 50 percent of aviation fuel derived from domestic assured sources of supplies by 2016.

Scott Sklar, President of the Stella Group Ltd, gives in his testimony (pdf) documents many Executive Orders issued by the US government, studies funded by the government which are “on a shelf” and argues that “information needs to be centralized, referenced and easily accessed.” He basically promotes his company’s products such as solar panel blanket that can power field phones, PV, fuel cells etc.

To me, he tries to stress the need for such products by giving Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer’s (chief of Multi-National Force-West in al-Anbar province) urgent request in August 2006 calling on the Pentagon to send more renewable energy systems because they could leverage resources like sunlight or wind to produce power for bases and outposts, and would lessen dependence on fossil fuels.

His conclusion is interesting though: “Reliance on old technologies is a luxury that can no longer be supported. These traditional technologies – standard battery banks, diesel engines, and grid-intertied systems – are too easy to disable, are unreliable, and do not have long term “staying” power necessary for the emergencies we all may realistically face.”

Mark Wagner, member of Federal Performance Contracting Coalition, Business Council for Sustainable Energy gives in his testimony (pdf) the results of the September 2005 CERL report on “Trends and Implications for U.S. Army Installations.” He claims that deployment of efficiency and alternative energy technologies at more military installations is critical for the DoD. By citing the success and effectiveness of Energy Conservation and Improvement program with a constant budget of $50 million in the past 15 years, he asks where to get the extra money needed. He recommends Utility Energy Saving Contracts and Energy Savings Performance Contracting programs which allows energy efficiency projects to be financed with private sector capital.

James T. Bartis, senior policy analyst, RAND Corporation, had a very clear and concise testimony (pdf). He sees two technically viable substitutes to crude oil that could come from domestic resources - oil shale and coal-to-liquids. He argues that although promising, oil shale remains a very expensive option for producing liquid fuels. Besides that today technically viable approaches for using renewable resources to produce significant amounts of JP-8 or similar fuels are very limited. The potential for bio-diesel produced from vegetable oils is severely limited because of a) low oil yields per cultivated acre, b) the amount of suitable arable land available.

Therefore this testimony concentrates on options for coal-to-liquids fuel production. He argues that the prospects for a commercial coal-to-liquids industry in the US remain unclear due to uncertainties related to the costs, production, performance, future oil prices, and CO2 emissions.

That is why he claims an immediate commitment as well as subsidizing it could be very expensive, risky and counterproductive at this time. He also cautions against the use of federal loan guarantees. This caution, in fact, contradicts with both Chairmen’s opening remarks which stressed that as the largest oil consumer in the US, the DoD’s efforts should “exercise a leadership role” in adopting alternative fuel sources.

It would be extremely interesting to know what is talked on Q&A session of the hearing, which is not made public.

Remarks and questions

I do not understand why this kind of hearings and reports concentrate too much cherry picked examples in investigating how to reduce US military energy consumption and dependency. The cherry picked and isolated examples, like the World Bank routinely does in demonstrating how their programs work(ed), do hide widely adaptable answers.

Electricity is surely very important but it is oil that constitutes three thirds of US military energy consumption. Why then so much emphasis to installation and facilities energy consumption and avoid the mobility fuel consumption, especially of the Air Force?

Are the energy efficient future turbine technologies and alternative fuels enough for Air Force to go green?

The recent synfuel test on B-52 was a good point for demonstrating the efforts towards making the current aircraft fleet consume less oil based fuel. Will Pentagon do the same for C-17s?

Pentagon has 180 C-17 Globemaster (claimed to be the best long-range military transport aircraft ever built by all accounts) in its stock. Further procurement is stopped[3] and old ones are not allowed to retire (similar is the case for B-52s). Because the current fleet, according to Pentagon, is enough to meet strategic airlift needs for the foreseeable future.

Fine, Pentagon wants to keep its current fleet and add new technologically advanced ones. But what do we really know about the future technology aircrafts? We heard a lot about F-22A and F-35s but how about the ones (such as Polecat and Aurora) at the flight test center near Groom Lake, Nevada (known as Area 51)? Do those programs exist? If exist, on which fuel those aircrafts of the future run? Hydrogen?

However, one good news is that the US military oil consumption gets an increasing attention, both inside and outside of the DoD.

Inside the DoD, already there are several Task Forces on energy and new ones are planned to come.

Outside the DoD, there are more and more conferences and publications discussing and questioning the US military energy consumption.

For example, the 2nd Annual Military Energy Alternatives Conference, organized by Marcusevans on February 19-21 February, 2007 in Virgina, is announced to explore the current alternative energy sources available to the DoD. According to the events summary[4] there will be discussions on “Reducing fuel requirements with alternative technologies, advancing defense testing and evaluation, examining developments in Fischer-Tropsch Technologies, fuel cell options for the military, advancing battery technology” etc. In addition “it will seek to understand current and future applications of alternative fuels, and the impact on combat operations, efficiency and potential DoD savings.”

Yes, there are lots talks, reports, conferences, task forces, hearings, etc dealing with possible solutions for the unsustainable US military energy consumption. And yet almost all lack the determination of the problem. What is the problem?

Does Pentagon understand the problem? Probably not. But it is aware of it.

Is pentagon worried about current or future energy consumption? Does Pentagon know how much energy by fuel type, by service and by end-use it consumes, in and outside of the US? I don’t think so.

Does Pentagon have an estimate of its current and future equipment/fleet/device stock and their future energy consumption? I don’t know but I don’t think so.

Does Pentagon care of environment? I don’t know. Have you ever seen any talk about the severe environmental damage that could eventually be caused by the lost nuclear submarines?

Time has come to reconsider the problem from the beginning.

[1] Jet fuel is used in aircrafts and non-aircraft platforms such as tanks, other ground vehicles and generators.
[2] 100 million of synJP-8 for the Air Force and another 100 million gallon of synJP-5 for the Navy.
[3] By the way, more or less at the same time a Letter of Intent publicly released by 13 NATO Allies launched contract negotiations for the purchase of C-17s.
[4] By the wa, it was interesting to see my estimates concerning the US military oil consumption in Iraq and Afghanistan (56,000 barrels of oil per day, with a cost of at least $3 million) in the conference announcement.


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