The Pentagon’s foray into bio-fuels falls victim to budget cuts

I was heartened last fall to hear about the US Air Force and Navy working to use biofuels (thankfully not ethanol) to slow their large demand for oil.  After all, the military has driven great technical and technological advances over the years, it would be great to have them turn their focus to cleaner and safer forms of energy.

Air Force And Navy Turn To Biofuels by Elizabeth Shogren for NPR, Sep. 26, 2011

The Pentagon’s hunt for an alternative to petroleum has turned a lowly weed and animal fat into something indistinguishable from jet fuel, and now the military is trying to kick-start a new biofuel industry.

“To flip the line from Field of Dreams, if the Navy comes, they will build it,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a recent speech.

[…]

High-tech chemical processing makes the jet biofuel nearly indistinguishable from petroleum jet fuel. It doesn’t matter whether refiners start with beef fat, leftover cooking oil or a plant like camelina. Camelina is promising because it can be grown on fallow wheat fields so it doesn’t displace food crops, and tests show it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent compared with petroleum.

I was equally disheartened to read that the Senate Armed Forces committee voted this week to prohibit the Pentagon from spending more on biofuels than they do on traditional carbon based sources like coal and petroleum.  I’m not advocating blowing the Pentagon’s budget on greener fuels, but I think that the investment in these sources of energy now will lead to significant savings both for our government and earth down the road.

Senate panel reins in Pentagon on clean energy by Donna Cassata for Bloomerberg BusinessWeek, May 25, 2012

A sharply divided Senate Armed Services Committee voted this week to prohibit the military from spending money on alternative fuels if the cost exceeds traditional fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil. The move underscores congressional concern about the greater expense of clean energy sources such as biofuels as the Pentagon wrestles with smaller budgets. The committee, in crafting a sweeping defense budget for next year, also voted to block Pentagon construction of a biofuels refinery or any other facility to refine biofuels.

Both efforts passed on 13-12 votes that were disclosed Friday.

“In a tough budget climate for the Defense Department, we need every dollar to protect our troops on the battlefield with energy technologies that reduce fuel demand and save lives,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “Spending $26 per gallon of biofuel is not consistent with that goal. The committee’s action corrects this misplacement of priorities.”

 

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