The U.S. military is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the driving forces behind alternative fuel sources; after all, not being dependent on potentially hostile foreign countries for vital fuel is a matter of national security. However, in the short term, said alternative fuels are more expensive than standard fossil fuels, and that creates a few problems.
A recent study done for the U.S. Air Force by the RAND Corporation concluded that higher prices for alternative fuels are unlikely to drop any time soon; as massive a consumer of fuel as the U.S. Defense Department is, it’s only a fraction of the worldwide market and can’t significantly influence price. In other words, the production scale needed to make alternative fuel competitive with fossil fuels just isn’t there, and the Defense Department can’t make that happen on its own.
Congress Still Hates Biofuel, Apparently
The study is a response to a measure recently proposed that would block the purchase of biofuels unless said biofuels are comparatively priced with petroleum-based products. (The matter of subsidies is, at this point, irrelevant; while the subsidies do artificially drive the cost of fossil fuels way down, they do exist and it is uncertain what the price of fossil fuels would be without them in any case.) The measure itself is a response to U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and several million spent on biofuel for a green fleet exhibition.
Mabus believes that the U.S. is capable of creating a market large enough to drive prices down across the board. RAND researcher James Bartis disagrees, according to Reuters:
“Pending a major technical breakthrough, renewable jet fuel and marine fuels will continue to be far more expensive than petroleum-based fuels.”
Short-Term Monetary Concerns > Long-Term National Security?
Congress is dubious about Mabus’ beliefs, claiming that he doesn’t have the numbers to support his declarations. Bartis, in the report, claims that military fears of running out of fuel are invalid, as it consumes less than half a percent of global daily demand — much less, even, than the United States produces domestically.
The study then went on to say that the Navy and the Air Force are vital to stabilizing oil-producing regions, mostly by ensuring safety at sea. Bartis and the study do not, however, assess the finite nature of fossil fuels, at which point the military’s fear of running out of fuel in the long term suddenly starts to look very credible indeed.
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Source & Image: Reuters