Sometime within the next several weeks, Congress will take up the National Defense Authorization Act and, according to a report by the advocacy organization Environmental Entrepreneurs, this could be a make or break deal for the Department of Defense’s ambitious biofuel programs. The group has raised concerns that the Department of Defense’s ability to purchase biofuels will be written out of the new legislation. That would deal a crippling blow to DoD’s long-term energy security strategy, and it would cost the advanced U.S. biofuel industry one of its biggest and most promising customers.
Why the NRDC Hearts the DoD
Environmental Entrepreneurs is an affiliate of the well-known environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (donations to E2 are made directly to NRDC). If you’re new to the topic, it’s fair to wonder why an organization like NRDC would go to bat for the Department of Defense, but just keep in mind that biofuel is the common denominator and you’re on steady ground.
The Department of Defense isn’t just a big biofuel customer; it’s also a tenacious and aggressive customer that plays a key role in research and development for algae and other next-generation biofuels, helping to propel them into the mainstream market.
Military Winning on Biofuels, So Far
Last spring, Republican leaders in Congress tried to prevent the military from buying biofuels that are more expensive than fossil fuels, and from building its own biorefineries.
The Obama Administration promptly ran around those obstacles with a $62 million military biofuel initiative enabled under the 1950′s-era Defense Production Act, and a $420 million public-private biofuel partnership for biorefinery construction.
That’s how, for example, the Navy will keep its long-running R&D relationship with the biofuel company Biodico going without a hitch. The Navy just signed a new agreement under which Biodico will build its own biorefinery right in a Navy base and sell cost-competitive biofuel to the Navy.
The Environmental Entrepreneurs Report
In the new report, E2 claims that military biofuel initiatives alone could generate almost $20 billion in economic activity in the biofuel industry by 2020, accounting for up to 17,000 new jobs (or double that, depending on how you calculate it).
The report also notes that the benefits of a growing bioeconomy will be distributed across a broad swath of the U.S. That dovetails with the Obama Administration’s rural economic development initiatives, which are designed to create more sustainable conditions in distressed rural communities, partly through the biofuel industry.
The rural economic development plan kicked off last year with a memorandum of understanding between the Departments of the Navy, Energy, and Agriculture, which promised the Navy as an eager customer for biofuel products.
Biodico president and founder summed it all up in a statement in support of the new report:
“The military is the biggest driver of the biofuel industry right now. If Congress stops the military from doing what the military knows is best, Congress also could threaten the growth of the Made-in-America biofuel industry.”
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.