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An Unlikely New Supporter for Alternative Energy

by | published October 24th, 2011

During a biofuels conference at Mississippi State University last week, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that his branch would be leading the charge to lessen the Defense Department's (DOD) dependence on fossil fuels.

This involves a rather large chunk of traditional fuel usage.

On average, the federal government consumes about 2% of the fossil fuels used in the U.S. However, the DOD accounts for about 90% of that.

With the Obama Administration emphasizing a move to alternative and renewable fuel sources, Mabus is signaling that the military is on board.

Well, sort of.

The Trouble with Foreign Oil

As former governor of Mississippi and ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Secretary Mabus knows something about the position of oil in American foreign policy.

He noted during the conference that, for every $1 rise in the cost of crude oil, the Navy has to come up with at least $32 million.

So when the Libyan crisis hit earlier this year and oil spiked $30 a barrel, that translated into additional costs to the Navy of almost $1 billion. No wonder, then, that Mabus is committed to meeting 50% of the Navy's onshore and fleet fuel needs from non-fossil sources by 2020.

Additionally, in what is now mantra from both sides of the political aisle, reliance on foreign oil sources presents a national security problem.

As Mabus put it, “When we did an examination of the vulnerabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps, fuel rose to the top of the list pretty fast. We simply buy too much fossil fuel from actual and potentially volatile places.”

Mabus continued, “We would never allow some of these countries we buy fuel from to build our ships, our aircraft, our ground vehicles – but because we depend on them for fuel, we give them a say in whether our ships sail, our aircraft fly, our ground vehicles operate.”

The push seems serious enough, and it does reflect similar statements coming from other branches of the military.

But questions remain: What are the alternative sources? How much volume can each genuinely give to the effort? What are the possible drawbacks of such alternatives?

Biofuels to the Rescue

From the Navy perspective, biofuels have shown some serious promise.

In certain theaters of operation, bio additives are already in use for both jet fuel and lighter vessel options. And the initial results have been quite encouraging.

(As a personal aside, I can attest to what can actually be put in the engine of a tactical craft… During my stint in counterintelligence during the Vietnam conflict, not everything we put in my forward-deployed PBR MK2 swift boat were from the “requisitioned and approved fuel” file! But it was certainly “turbo-charged” when the crew got done with it…)

But to make the move Mabus is talking about, that requires a consistent and strategically sound supply and deployment policy.

Industry sources will tell you that the formula for combining biofuels and conventional sources is crucial.

Most of the bio alternatives currently in vogue will result in a substantial reduction in power and raise significant concerns over engine damage.

It does not help to provide additional security over supply, only to end up with a rising down-time problem.

Toward Unified Fueling Alternatives

Now the Navy can make strides in how onshore vehicles are fueled.

Some of the experiments with fuel cell vehicles, natural gas-power systems, and bio mixes already conducted by the Army will certainly be useful. Here, at least, a unified set of fueling alternatives may well emerge that would allow application across military branches.

The Air Force has also had some success with new mixtures of jet fuel that introduce non-fossil-fuel based products. That can be of direct benefit to the Navy's carrier strike aircraft.

To make the DOD's shift from fossil fuels work, however, a new R&D support network is essential.

That is where the private sector comes in.

Research institutes, energy companies, and tech start-ups are going to be essential if the military is to forge this new direction toward alternative fuels.

Look for the post-Iraq era military fuel needs to lead to resurgence in alternative fuel research and development in the U.S.

Consider it the latest “peace bonus.”

Sincerely,

Kent

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  1. james e tonra
    October 24th, 2011 at 12:04 | #1

    Dr Moors

    Why is this a revelation ?

    The Oil and energy needs of this country cost American citizens $1,000,000,000 each day . This net expense goes largely to people
    who often times hate us sometimes up front (Venezuela) and more often to peole who disguise their hatred (Saudi )!

    Our American political leaders don’t have a clue when it comes to this issue.

    They don’t have a clue when it comes to job creation !

    Citizens for Affordable Energy presented a master plan to end our dependence on foreign oil, create over 1,300,000 jobs and generate approximately $1.300,000,000,in frderal , state and local taxes.

    Their plan included continuing efforts to invest in alternative energy even though it isn’t very productive at this moment in time.

    Since your speak frequently on energy please take up this cause . Jim Tonra

  2. October 24th, 2011 at 12:07 | #2

    Oloeru Tudor-Radu
    Dealul Bucium 4
    IASI, Romania
    700272

    Multumesc

  3. J Palmer
    October 24th, 2011 at 14:04 | #3

    Use of modular rotary internal c0mbustion engines, either in direct drive or with electric drive combinations, would permit a very liberal fuel selection. I believe

  4. Bernie Mills
    October 24th, 2011 at 14:27 | #4

    Dear Mr. Moors,
    I worked on the White House Activation Task Force tasked with forming the Dept of Energy in 1975 thru 1980. I can’t even calculate the billions of dollars the Carter Admin pushed through the Dept of Energy to find alternate energy fuels etc. We could’t make it work then and it won’t work now. There isn’t enough money in all of China to re-fit the USA infrastructure. Period. End of story.

    Regards, B. Mills

  5. Stephen Kennedy
    October 24th, 2011 at 15:01 | #5

    As usual, a nice little story but as usual, it wasn’t accompanied
    by any stock sybols of companies who will directly benefit from this information. We didn’t subscribe to learn how much the Navy spends on fuel. We need information that will allow us to become, in your words
    “TEXAS RICH’

  6. Chuck S
    October 24th, 2011 at 17:26 | #6

    Why are discussions of reducing dependence on foreign oil not starting with the obvious – produce more domestic energy? This shows that Obama’s banning of some offshore drilling is against out national security. If we allow 2 or 3 more million barrels/day from the US it would help our economy and our national defense. Open ANWR-Alaska, more offshore, etc. I recently read that the government is even trying to inhibit North Dakota production.

  7. October 25th, 2011 at 11:05 | #7

    Will solar energy play an important part as alternative energy?

  8. Mike ORourke
    November 13th, 2011 at 19:36 | #8

    I started a company that could save a million barrels of imported oil from being used in one area that could be used for the DOD use, but I need a grant to get up off the ground, and I could create jobs which their wages would flow into the rest of the county.

  9. Richard Berry
    December 5th, 2011 at 13:32 | #9

    Mike OR–How much do you need. There is a lot of money floating around for feasible projects.

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