The Senate is set to vote today on amendments to the $984 billion federal spending bill, and our friends over at The Hill tell us that hidden among the gems is a measure to strip out U.S. Navy biofuel initiatives. Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have run out! While certain anti-biofuel lawmakers have been busily pushing their legislative pencils around, the Obama Administration has been actually doing stuff to ensure that the Navy can diversify its ships, aircraft and ground vehicles out of an increasingly risky, and costly, dependence on petroleum.
Low Cost Biofuel For the US Navy
Today’s biofuel vote won’t been the first time that certain members of Congress have attacked the Navy’s ambitious biofuel programs. The main line of attack is that biofuel is currently more expensive than petroleum, so it’s a waste of money.
The Obama Administration began addressing that issue systematically in 2011, launching a biofuel initiative that teamed the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Navy to help jumpstart the advanced biofuel industry into commercial production.
Given new developments in biorefining technology and a greater scale of production, biofuels have a better shot to achieve price parity with conventional petroleum fuel. When that happens, it will demolish the case against the Navy’s biofuel program.
A Navy Biofuel Refinery Grows in North Carolina
Last year, the Obama Administration expanded its inter-agency efforts with a new Agriculture Department biofuel loan program to establish eight major biorefineries across the country.
One of those biorefineries will be built in North Carolina by the global company Chemtex, and let’s focus on that as an example of how things are moving along in the real world while those aforementioned legislators are putting the Navy’s biofuel initiatives through another show trial.
Yesterday, North Carolina’s Fay Observer reported that construction could start on the Chemtex biorefinery by this fall, and adding more volume to the U.S. biofuel production landscape is just part of the equation.
In an earlier report, the Observer noted that the new facility will create 65 direct permanent jobs and 250 indirect jobs in supply, maintenance and biofuel crop transportation.
As an additional benefit to the local economy, the crops will consist of miscanthus and switchgrass, which will enable corn and soybean farmers to put marginal, unused land into cash crop production.
The USDA estimates that local farm revenues could add up to $4.5 million once the new biorefinery goes into operation.
The Observer also notes that the bulk of that available land will most likely consist of approximately 100,000 acres that are currently used as dumping grounds for waste from hog farms. Called spray fields, these lands currently grow Bermuda grass. The idea is to transition them over to biofuel grasses that have a higher energy content, like miscanthus.
Many Benefits from Advanced Biofuels
When you add it all up, more and cheaper biofuels is just one aspect of the U.S. Navy’s push for biofuels.
Toting up the advantages for a state like North Carolina, which currently has to import virtually all of its petroleum, you get a local fuel production facility that creates hundreds of local jobs while creating new markets for a major existing industry, agriculture.
That pattern is being repeated elsewhere in the U.S., for example in New York State where shrub willow is being developed as a cash crop for farmers to grow on marginal land.
Okay, so now go ahead and have your vote.
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+.