Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Future of Biofuels in the Pentagon

On 27 February 2013 Chuck Hagel has become the 24th Secretary of Defense. Before and after that day there has been much discussion about his possible position vis-à-vis energy in general and biofuels in particular.

Many agreed that Secretary of the US Department Defense Hagel suggests vague support for continued military use of biofuels, reported Grist, an environmental news website, in January 2013. Similar conclusion was reached by others as well, i.e., Hagel backs Pentagon’s biofuels program, ban on dirtier fuels, Pentagon nominee Hagel endorses ban on high-carbon defense fuels. If someone is politician it is usually impossible to understand where she/he really stands. Hagel is not an exception.

Let me provide a small background about Hagel and energy.

Hagel listed seven principles in his article A Republican Foreign Policy appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs. Number 2 was on energy:[1]

2) Do Not Ignore Global Energy Security: “Discussions of U.S. energy policy are often detached from economic and foreign policy. The United States has an interest in assuring stable and secure supplies of oil and natural gas."

Hagel believes that climate change is a national security threat. "I don’t think you can separate environmental policy from economic policy or energy policy," Hagel told Grist in a 2005 interview.

In September 2007 Chuck Hagel (then Republican Senator from Nebraska) told to law students of Catholic University what he thinks about the war in Iraq: "People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are... They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs."

 In the spring of 2010, Chuck Hagel was nominated to serve on the Board of Directors of Chevron. He seems to be a realist. You decide where he stands by looking at his voting record on energy and environment.

General expectation was that the Pentagon’s biofuels program will remain strictly a research-and-development effort. Sharon Burke also said that the Pentagon does not plan to buy massive quantities of biofuels until their prices are comparable to petroleum products.

But, in March 2013, Gevo entered into a contract with the Defense Logistics Agency to supply the U.S. Army with 3,650 gallons of renewable jet fuel to be delivered by the second quarter of 2013. This initial order may be increased by 12,500 gallons. All shipments will be at a fixed price of $59 per gallon during the initial testing phase. These shipments are in addition to the renewable jet fuel supplied to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the U.S. Navy (USN).

This contract is indeed contradicting what Hagel was arguing so far. But he cannot be blamed because the contract was perhaps agreed before his nomination. He seems to be a pragmatic man. We will see whether he will get the biofuels from bio fools or not.

I repeat, I am not against biofuels or biofuels technologies. I am against picking specific winners in energy technology instead of leaving the decision to the market, pushing to create an industry with taxpayer guaranteed loan, and prematurely spending millions of dollars to bring unworkable and uneconomic programs.



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