Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fuel Use in Nontactical Vehicles

The Pentagon is working toward developing alternative fuels and propulsion technologies to decrease its energy dependency, and increase its energy security. The Pentagon’s environmentalism, however, does not align much with reality.

Fuel use in non tactical vehicles (passenger cars, vans, SUVs, trucks, buses and ambulances) account for less than 2 percent of total energy use by the US military.

Let me give some statistics from the GSA's Fiscal Year 2008 Federal Fleet Report (available for download as of January 31, 2009) on military fuel use in non tactical fleet vehicles.[1]

In 2008, fuel use in military nontactical vehicles (NTV) remained the same as in 2007, slightly over 100 million gallons of gasoline equivalent. To be exact, 101.5 million gallons gasoline equivalent. In fact, this is more or less what the military services have been consuming over the past years.
With its 75 percent share, gasoline is the most consumed fuel in military nontactical vehicles. Gasoline is followed by Diesel (18%). What this means is that, conventional oil products account for 93% of the total fuel consumption in NTV. What happened to biofuels hype? Well, biodiesel accounts for only 5% and ethanol/E-85 only 1%. The share of all the other alternative fuels (compressed natural gas, electric and hydrogen) is only 1%.
Isn’t that a bit strange? The military services have had 196,166 vehicles in their inventory in 2008. Of those vehicles one-fourth is capable of running on E-85. Maybe I am doing something wrong in that math?

The largest fuel consumer in nontactical vehicles is Department of Army, accounting for more than half of fuel used in all military NTV. It is therefore quite normal that Army focuses more on alternative fuels.

The US Army announced (Army Announces Historic Electric Vehicle Lease) in January 2009 that it plans to lease 4000 neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) until the end of 2011, which will constitute the largest acquisition of electric vehicles not only in the US but probably in the world. They will be used on Army bases for passenger transport, security patrol, and maintenance and delivery services.

This sounds good. But what does not much sense is the Army’s intention of developing and using hybrid-electric powered Manned Ground Vehicles for its armored forces. Fuel efficiency, easing dependence on oil, and reducing GHG emissions are very loose concepts for tactical ground vehicles if they ever will be deployed abroad. Try to use hybrid-electric armored vehicle in Afghanistan. The concept is good but again, applicability is overseen. We have seen what happened to Humvees and how much money is spent for Humvee Reset.

Despite an aggressive PR campaign by the Pentagon, biofuels are not yet used in tactical vehicles. And the U.S. military’s real pain is its oil consumption in tactical vehicles.

Besides costs issues, biofuels have several shortcomings in military tactical vehicle applications. The Defense Department does not currently use biofuels in aircraft due mainly to their high cloud point — it may cause the fuel to gel and clog the engine as the aircraft climbs. The use of biodiesel in marine vessels is prohibited because of its hydrophilic characteristics — it may result in damage to engine fuel system components, accelerate fuel storage instability, and affect the fuel’s cold weather operating properties. The use of biodiesel in Army ground tactical vehicles is prohibited largely because of fuel stability, vehicle performance and maintenance considerations. See for more on that in my article published in February 2009 issue of the National defense Magazine (Defense Department Should Rethink Energy-Saving Tactics)

I will repeat here what I said in my previous post: Too much body, too many gadgets but too little head is not an option for future military leaders if they would like to meet future challenges. They have to possess rigorous intellectual understanding and critical thinking capability with a non-myopic strategic insight.



Notes:
[1] Past issues of GSA federal fleet reports go back to 2000 both in PDF and word format.
Don’t get excited much. All the tables in the Word files are given as picture. So, if you want to construct a time series or want to put data in Excel format, you have to type them. Wouldn’t it be nice if GSA provided the tables in Excel format so that the analysts like me would spare time and nerve?

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