The use of biofuels by the Military has been a hot button for some time. Now CNN and many other sources are reporting on a RAND Corps study that says that there is no direct military benefit from alternative fuels research. The Congressionally mandated study says that "There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels,"
The study directed by SecDef and required by the NDAA 2010 looked at several topics:
- Opportunities to produce alternative fuels in a way that reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, including the use of clean energy alternatives such as nuclear, solar, and wind energies for powering the conversion processes.
- The military utility of concepts for production of alternative fuels in or close to the theater of military operations compared to domestic production.
- The goals and progress of research, testing, and certification efforts by the Department of Defense related to the use of alternative fuels in military vehicles and aircraft.
- The prospects for commercial production of non-petroleum military fuel
The study found that the most promising near term option was Fischer-Tropsch fuels, but that they provided significant challenge in their production of green house gases. It also questioned whether “appreciable amounts of hydrotreated renewable oils can be affordably and cleanly produced within the United States or abroad”. The FT method was developed by the Germans and exploited by South Africa, not because they were concerned about green house gases, but because they could not secure their supply of oil.
It allowed that if we had electric or hydrogen driven vehicles, we could use nuclear, wind and solar energy sources. This is kind of like say, “We could have ham and eggs, if we had ham……or eggs”. Finally, they found that the U.S. military producing fuel forward using compact fuel production systems is not a good idea. Of course, not producing fuel is already U.S military policy. As the Air Force has said, we buy fuel, not make it. That being said, if one of the countries in the ‘Stans was making a DOD certified biofuel I assume we might buy that. Nice economic boost for those supporting the U.S. efforts.
Rand concluded that, “Defense Department goals for alternative fuels in tactical weapon systems should be based on potential national benefits, since the use of alternative, rather than petroleum-derived, fuels offers no direct military benefits”. Essential, they are saying that DOD should be involved in biofuels for strategic reasons, not tactical. They laud the efforts of the Services in testing and certifying fuels. DOD efforts far outpace what the commercial world is doing.
The Navy has already found exception with the study. “Unfortunately, we were not engaged by the authors of this report,” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy. “We don’t believe they adequately engaged the market,” he said, adding, “This is not up to RAND’s standards.” They have been actively engaged with the industry and see the potential for domestic use. The Navy Secretary’s goal of 8 million barrels of biofuels by 2020 may shape that perspective, but someone has to think big!
I agree that this is a strategic effort. If a component of energy security is access to oil, then home grown solutions are a step along the way. Just as ethanol was a step, drop in replacement fuels are a step that should lead us to the final alternative forms of locomotion for our transportation sector. Whether that is electricity or hydrogen, the market will tell, but by developing the certification processes, DOD will shape the commercial effort that can help fossil fuel poor nations around the world. Petro dictators, beware!