The US military and biofuels, again
two recent reports on the US military and biofuels I felt obliged to write
again and continue my criticisms.
report provides a solid background: Federal
Activities Support Development and Usage, but Long-term Commercial Viability
Hinges on Market Factors, GAO-14-407, May 7, 2014.
It reminds us the U.S. Navy’s aim of using about 336-million
gallons of alternative fuels annually by 2020. And the Air Force’s goal of
increasing the use of drop-in alternative jet-fuel blends for non-contingency
operations to 50 percent of total consumption by 2025 (it currently consumes more
or less 2.5 billion gallons of jet fuel each year).
It also states that the
US Department of Defense purchased about 1.5-million gallons of alternative jet
fuels to conduct the department’s testing and approval activities from fiscal
years 2007 to 2013 at a total cost of almost $40 million (In fact, the correct
number is more than $70 million, not adjusted for inflation).
More money will be
spent in the future. USDA, DOE, and the Navy intend to contribute $170 million
each over 3 years, for an aggregate total of $510 million for biofuel efforts. DOD
plans to issue solicitations in 2014 for the purchase of about 80-million
gallons of any combination of jet and marine diesel fuels in 2015 that are
blended with at least 10 percent alternative fuels. USDA will contribute up to
about $161 million.
The second report is
titled “Green Peace: Can Biofuels Accelerate Energy Security?” (JFQ 73, 2nd
Quarter 2014), by Commander John E. Gay, Deputy Public Affairs Officer of
United States Fleet Forces Command, USN.
A well written article (despite
some outdated data and missing facts) criticizing the US military’s biofuels
efforts. It is very unfortunate that he does not mention at all any article of Captain T.A. ‘Ike’ Kiefer, for instance, Energy
Insecurity: The False Promise of Liquid Biofuel. (see a summary at my blog Twenty-First Century Snake Oil and also here).
Commander Gay reiterates
that “it is unlikely that the costs of biofuels will ever become more
competitive than fossil fuels. Biofuels do not offer the same energy density as
petroleum-based fuels. Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy per gallon than
gasoline and biodiesels contain about 8 percent less energy than petroleum-based
diesel fuels. Lower energy density has a direct negative effect on battlefield
energy security. That means operational vehicles using biofuels will travel
less distance per tank of fuel, thus requiring more fuel to accomplish the same
mission. This results in additional logistics requirements in the form of more
fuel that will have to be delivered to the troops.”
He argues that biofuels
are counterproductive to national energy security for four primary reasons. (1)
the cost of biofuels is directly linked to the cost of petroleum. (2) they are
not currently available in the quantities needed to meet military demand and it
is unlikely the industry will ever be capable of producing a sufficient supply.
(3) their energy density is significantly less than fossil fuels, and less
energy density means less fuel efficiency. Less fuel efficiency means more fuel
convoys will be needed to meet the military’s mission, increasing costs and
risks to Service members.(4) the greater demand for biofuels feedstock will
foster global threats and as a result may increase the likelihood that the US
may have to deploy forces to new threat areas.
He also poses a good
question “should the military—the branch of government responsible for national
security—be responsible for investing its limited resources as a venture
capitalist to jumpstart a biofuels industry and be forced to purchase fuels at
10 times the cost of readily available petroleum-based fuels? Not only does
this not make good economic sense, but it also puts our national security at
We already have heard plenty
of times these sorts of questions. What happened? Nothing! It seems that
something making economic sense is often considered nonsense by the DoD. Examples
are many. For instance, the US armed forces spent billions of dollars on military
uniforms (around $300 million on camouflage uniforms in 2011 alone). The
Economist published a nice article
on 12 April 2014 with subtitle “expense and stupidity too big to camouflage”. Are
biofuels much different?