Friday, January 28, 2011

Rand Corporation Torpedoes the Green Fleet

In 2010, the Navy News Service staff published nearly 6,000 stories on At the end of 2009 the Service complied top 10 stories. Here is top number 10:
10. The Green Navy (Green Fleet, Green Hornet, 2010 Navy Energy Forum): The Navy celebrated Earth Day April 22 by showcasing a flight test of the “Green Hornet,” an F/A-18 Super Hornet multirole fighter jet powered by a biofuel blend. Participants in the 2010 Navy Energy Forum on Oct. 12-13 focused on achieving energy security and reviewed progress toward the energy targets. The U.S. Navy conducted a full power demonstration of a Riverine Command Boat powered by alternative fuel, Oct. 22. 
The year 2010 ended well for Green Navy. Towards the end of January 2011 things were still fine.
On January 24, 2011, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus posted on The White House Blog a short but informative article titled “Moving the Navy and Marine Corps Off Fossil Fuels.”
He starts with his five ambitious goals of October 2009 to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the Navy and Marine Corps and increase the use of alternative energy to at least 50% of energy requirements no later than 2020.  He list the following reasons for doing so:
• Reducing reliance on foreign sources of energy makes the country more secure.

• Reducing reliance on fossil fuels makes troops safer
• Increasing energy efficiency makes ships, aircraft, and vehicles more tactically capable.
• Increasing alternative energy use helps create an alternative energy market.
• Reducing the energy footprint significantly reduces military carbon footprint.

He also lists progress made towards his goals.He concludes with a statement that the Navy and Marine Corps are leading the nation in adopting new technology to make our country more secure, and helping to create a new energy future.

One day later the bad news hit the fan.

On 24 January 2011, the RAND Corporation submitted a report titled “Alternative Fuels for Military Applications” to Congress. The report made a great publicity I guess because of it stood against biofuel hype of the US military. The most quoted sentence of the report is “the use of alternative fuels offers no direct military benefit over the use of conventional petroleum-derived fuels,” they have little military value, and the U.S. service branches are wasting millions of dollars by trying to replace their consumption of fossil fuels.

A day later, on 25 January 2011, when the New York Times spread the news (Alternative Fuels Don’t Benefit the Military) DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable with Mr. Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, was discussing the Rand report. ( interview, transcript).

Main headline of his criticism are the following:
The Navy, based on its engagement with the alternative fuels industry, has “come to some far different conclusions than this report suggests.”

The report has “factual errors”, was based on “secondhand knowledge,” and is “more of an op-ed than serious research,” contains “misrepresentations.”

“The Rand report erroneously describes the Navy as operating a testing program for a petroleum substitute used to make low-sulfur diesel fuel, whereas the service focuses exclusively on biofuels”

He argues that the report downplays the possibility government and industry would succeed in making such fuels practical. To him the American military wields sufficient purchasing power to sometimes drive market realities, increasing the chances of developing new fuels in sufficient quantities at the right price. Though the military represents only 2% of the U.S. petroleum market, the services would likely drive market trends given the anemic finances of America’s largest oil user—the commercial aviation industry.

This ambition might be reasonable but his claim “the Navy intends to soon drive down the price of fuel to a dollar per gallon” is unreasonable. His reiteration of the usual line “new energy would allow America to regain its energy independence while stopping the transfer of wealth to oil-rich countries sometimes hostile to U.S. interests,” is nonsense. (I will tell some other time why)

At the same time while Mr. Tom Hicks was discussing the Rand report,  Secretary of  the Navy Mabus was reviewing the effects converting the Department of the Navy from fossil fuels to alternative fuels will have on the economy during the Clean Energy Summit. Chinara Lucas, Secretary of the Navy Public Affairs, reported the following about what Mabus said there:
Mabus said: "History has taught us the competition for resources has been one of the fundamental causes of war for centuries," …. "I am very pleased that the cost of these fuels continues to decrease," … "As more is produced – and as our demand signal grows, I am confident that price will continue to fall."
Maybus said the dependence on fossil fuel continued to produce bad results during the time of war by endangering Sailors and Marines charged with guarding convoys bringing energy to bases and machinery. He urged that the solution to this reliance and resulting war and loss of lives is the utilization of alternative fuels.

The use of cotton-seed by Marines in Sangi, Afghanistan, was also presented by Mabus as an example of alternative energy at its best. Through this pilot program, Mabus said Marines have reduced the amount of fossil fuel they use by 20 percent. As a consequence, Marines utilize fuel convoys less. "If this program can be expanded, it has the potential to achieve monetary savings," said Mabus. (Well, I am sure he didn’t say how much less money, and how many less convoys)

Again, at the same time (25 January) Mary Rosenthal, Executive Director of Algal Biomass Organization released a statement saying “the report is likely based on outdated information. In our opinion, basing sweeping policy recommendations on such data is misguided if not reckless. The positioning of the entire US algae industry as a “research topic” is patently false. ….. It is unclear to us whether or not any actual “green” CTL fuels have been produced or tested. We believe algae commercialization is far closer than RAND suggests.”
Steve LeVine wrote on 26 January 2011 (Isn't reducing soldier casualties a military priority?) about the Rand report, After talking to the author of the Rand report, James Bartis, he reports that “Bartis's report is misleading by omission. His report focuses solely on non-fossil fuels, as Congress requested in a 2009 appropriations bill, and leaves out alternative energy such as solar and fuel cells.”  LeVine argues that Bartis “simply laid out what we all know -- that biofuels may never be more economical than oil, and many of them will probably never be produced in commercial volumes.”
I am carefully reading the Rand report. In a separate post I will only focus on it, not who said what about it.
Interesting coincidence with the Rand report that I had concluded my previous post (Going Green and Greenbacks, posted on 18 January) with the following sentence: The US military must make the choice between "going green for greenbacks" and "going green without extra greenbacks".

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