on U.S. Military Energy Consumption, Geopolitics, and Energy Security
Monday, March 19, 2012
Senators show yellow card to DOD biofuels
SInce the beginning of this year the Department of Defense was going full speed with its "greening" efforts, particulary with biofuels. Then two US senators have shown the courage to question it.
Here is what happened in the past month.
Towards the end of February the US Air Force has been conducting extensive field tests of a 50-50 blend of camelina biofuel and regular JP-8 jet fuel. Two F-16s from the 180th FW fleet have been designated to test the 50/50 blend of Jet Propellant-8 petroleum and Hydroprocessed Renewable Jet fuel derived from the camelina plant.
Several important things happened until mid-March.
On 1 March 2012, the American Security Project released a FACT SHEET: Bio Fuels and National Security. ASP says that “Dependence on oil is one of America’s most critical threats to long-term national security because of concerns about its availability and the strategic need to secure fuel sources in unstable regions. The U.S. Department of Defense understands this threat better than anyone else, and that is why they are investing in developing a domestic biofuels industry that can compete with oil. This factsheet shows the importance of that project.”
ASPalso hosted a briefing, “Biofuels for National Security: Air Force and Navy Progress on Renewable Fuels.” Listen to the podcast HERE. The guests were Commander James Goudreau, Director in the Navy Energy Coordination Office and Carol Ann Beda, Director of Energy Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy. Both speakers underlined that the move away from petroleum-based fuels was not at all political or about being “green”. Instead, a move to biofuels was all about increasing mission combat capability. There were two common, and related, reasons cited for moving towards biofuels: budgetary and energy security. Senator John Warner (R-VA), the former Secretary of the Navy and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who also attended the event, expressed concern that Congress’s short termism could undercut the ability of the military to support the biofuel industry.
On 2 March 2012, USS Ford (FFG 54) successfully transited from the ship's homeport in Everett, Washington to San Diego using 25,000 gallons of a 50/50 algae-derived, hydro-processed algal oil and petroleum F-76 blend in the ships LM 2500 gas turbines. Its voyage on the algal blend marks the first demonstration of the alternative fuel blend in an operational fleet ship. (USS Ford Conducts Operational Transit on Alternative Fuel Blend). Note that on 24 Jan 2012, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientists and engineers successfully demonstrated the ability to run a small two-cycle outboard engine an algae-based diesel fuel. This type of engine is used to propel combat rubber raiding craft. (NSWC PCD Successfully Runs Biofuel in Multi-Fuel, Outboard Engine).
As you may know, the Navy will sail a “green” carrier strike group around Hawaii using a 50% biofuel blend during the coming summer’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). Until then all Navy ships will have been tested on biofuel blend. Four ships will sail under the biofuel blend, along with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. All the aircraft will fly on the same mix. A larger strike group of 11 ships, dubbed Great Green Fleet, will follow in 2016.
"First and foremost, Navy energy is about the warfighter. Our reason to pursue these initiatives is to deliver greater combat capability. Reduced consumption of energy and increased use of alternative energy comprise the Navy's two-pronged approach to improving combat capability and achieving energy security."
"Energy efficiency reduces consumption and is achieved by modifying the current fleet, changing the acquisition process to consider energy in future weapons platforms, and changing Navy's culture to value energy as tactical, operational, and strategic assets."
On 9 March 2012, The U.S. Army announced that it is testing a fleet of 16 General Motors hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Hawaii to demonstrate the practicality and applicability of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commanding general of U.S. Army, Pacific, said “These fuel cell vehicles will help move the U.S. Army in the Pacific toward a sustainable path that reduces energy security challenges and strengthens our energy independence.” The vehicles are funded by the Army Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center, Office of Naval Research and Air Force Research Laboratories. The vehicles travel up to 200 miles on a single charge, refuel in five minutes and produce zero emissions. (Army Unveils World’s First Military Fleet of Fuel Cell Vehicles). Not surprisingly I haven’t seen any cost figures in any report related to this subject. Are these vehicles free of charge?
On 9 March 2012, the DOD released an implementation plan for cutting energy consumption in military operations. (Defense Department Releases Energy Conservation Roadmap). The plan outlines a three-part strategy of reducing the demand for energy, securing diverse options beyond fossil fuels, and building energy security considerations into all military planning. The plan creates a Defense Operational Energy Board to oversee the department’s progress. I will write on this in a separate piece.
On 12 March 2012, the US President Obama released a progress report, for the administration's progress report for the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future. One year ago, the President put forward a plan in the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future that outlined the Administration’s all-of-the-above approach to American energy. There is a complete section on the US military in this report.
Then came 16 March 2012. What happened on that day? Nothing! It was just one month after 16 February 2012! What happened on that day? In my opinion, that day should be marked as the first serious challenge for the “greening” of the military.
On 16 February 2012, Congressman Randy Forbes questioned Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at a Hosue Armed Forces Committee hearingin regard to the Navy’s mismatched priorities during an era of extreme budgetary constraints.Forbes expressed his concern that in a time of fiscal uncertainty and shifting priorities to the Asia-Pacific, the Navy appears to be prioritizing alternative energy investment rather than concentrating on building and sustaining its fleet. Video of Congressman Forbes' exchange with Secretary Mabus is below.
Wow, he was really tough. Here are some punchy ones "I understand that alternative fuels may help our guys in the field, but wouldn't you agree that the thing they'd be more concerned about is having more ships, more planes, more prepositioned stocks… I love green energy. I’m not against it. …It’s a matter of priorities..Shouldn't we refocus our priorities and make those things our priorities instead of advancing a biofuels market?..... You're not the secretary of the energy. You're the secretary of the Navy."
Fast forward to 15 March 2012.
On 15 March 2012: John McCain said in a Senate hearing that the Navy’s push to develop biofuels to run its fleet of planes and warships could devolve into a “Solyndra situation” for the Pentagon. “Using defense dollars to subsidize new energy technologies is not the Navy’s responsibility. Nor is it sufficiently related to the Service’s core mission to justify such expenditures,” said McCain, at the hearing.
The Navy’s green-energy agenda has been under spotlights since President Obama highlighted the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2012. Obama and senior military officials have largely been praised for their efforts on greening the economy and military. Only some journalists and a few bloggers (including myself and DOD Energy Blog) have been critical for some of the DOD’s ‘green’ efforts. Now even these two US senators (Forbes and McCain) have started to question the Navy’s green energy agenda. Interestingly they (so far, to my knowledge) haven’t questioned the Air Force or Army for their “green” gadgets.
Using energy more efficiently and wisely, eliminating energy waste, and energy conservation are three important weapons the US military must widely use. Nobody is against that. But wasting scarce financial resources for creating an industry is not the military’s job. Right, the US military developed the Internet, GPS or even flat-screen TVs. But the aim was not to create a market. I repeat, beware of military-‘green’ industry complex.
Born in 1965, I am an engineer and an economist by education (BSc, MSc, PhD, PostDoc), a number cruncher by experience, an energy analyst by profession, and a military energy analyst by passion.
Currently I am working as director of hydrocarbons at an energy industry association in France.
Before joining that association I was with the International Energy Agency in Paris. Previously, I worked as research associate and manager at several institutions in Austria, Turkey and Germany.
I felt obliged to write this becuase many people ask my bakground. And no, I do not have any connection to the DOD.