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Biofuels US Navy vs climate change denial

Published on July 8th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


Navy 2, Congress 0 in Biofuel Cage Match

July 8th, 2012 by  

$420 in matching grants for 3 military biofuels

The U.S. Navy appears to be steamrolling easily over a Republican-led effort to quash its biofuel initiatives. Early last week, the Obama administration announced a Navy-supported $62 million biofuel research program, and it followed up a few days later with another $420 million effort by the Department of Defense to build not one but three biofuel refineries for military aircraft and vessels. Together, these programs will help lower the cost and raise the availability of biofuels for both the military and civilian markets.

More and Cheaper Biofuel

The two announcements come after a months-long battle that culminated in a Congressional ban on biofuel purchases by the Department of Defense, at least until the price of biofuel becomes competitive with conventional fossil fuels.

The $62 million initiative is designed to dodge that maneuver by focusing on foundational research and demonstration-scale projects that will help speed up the development of cheaper, more efficient ways to produce biofuels, hastening the day when the price will drop to or below fossil fuel prices.

The new $420 million biofuel program, as reported by Reuters, involves $210 million in matching federal funds for private companies to build three large-scale biorefineries, each with a capacity of at least 10 million gallons per year.

That initiative apparently circumvents another Congressional mandate promoted by Senator John McCain (ironically, an ex-Navy man), that banned the Department of Defense from building its own biorefineries.

The U.S. Navy and Alternative Fuels

The Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Army have also been transitioning to alternative fuels, but the U.S. Navy has been taking almost all of the heat from members of Congress (yes, primarily Republicans) who are opposed to the Navy’s strategy of helping to bring down the price of biofuel through its potential for large-scale purchasing.

Part of the attention is due to year-long publicity leading up to the launch of the Navy’s new Green Strike Group in a huge multinational, competitive maritime exercise called the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). The Green Strike Group is anchored by a nuclear carrier but other ships and aircraft in the group are powered with the help of a 50-50 biofuel blend.

In addition, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for the interrelationship of biofuels, energy security and greenhouse gas management as they relate to national security.

Mabus also has a knack for positioning military biofuels within the historical timeline of U.S. innovation, especially as applied to the Navy. In a biofuel conference call with reporters late last year, Mabus stated:

“…Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security and to the U.S. Navy’s ability to protect America and to project power overseas…In history, Navy has always led in changing fuel types. We went from sail to coal in the 1850s. We went from coal to oil in the early part of the 20th century, and we pioneered nuclear in the 1950s.”

Green Fuels, Green Jobs

In the same conference call, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described USDA programs that support the development of low cost, drop in biofuels for the Department of Defense (and of course, the civilian world, too) along with support for farmers growing biofuel crops.

That includes USDA loans for two biorefineries in 2011 with more to come this year, new “virtural” research centers, public-private research efforts partnering Agricultural Research Service scientists with the biofuel industry, and Forest Service research initiatives.

In addition, the USDA’s Crop Management and Crop Insurance Program is moving forward on plans to provide insurance for biofuel crops.

What this all amounts to, according to Vilsack, is not only an end-run around Congress but also “tremendous job creating opportunities inherent in every single one of these steps.”

In that regard, if you’re looking at the latest national jobs report and wondering why things aren’t picking up any faster, just consider how much energy members of Congress (again, primarily Republican representatives) have been spending to crush the U.S. biofuel industry, to say nothing of their lack of support for the U.S. wind industry and the stinkeye they have been casting on the U.S. solar industry. It’s almost like they want the U.S. industrial sector to fail.


Image: Some rights reserved by USDAgov.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

(Updated July 9, 2012) Readers please note: Commenter Cliff Claven has left a detailed critique of U.S. military biofuel policy in the thread below. If you are interested in seeing more examples of Cliff’s insights, you can also find them in the comment threads on several other articles of mine at CleanTechnica (just google our names together with “biofuel,”) as well as on my article at Triple Pundit, Jon Soltz’s article in Huffington Post (Jon is a veteran and co-founder of VoteVets), and Eric Beidel’s article in National Defense Magazine. Cliff, our readers might also be interested to know who you are working for, or what motivates your personal interest in this topic. Please feel free to leave a note in the comments. Thanks!

Here’s his comment link on Huffpo.

And here he is again at NationalDefense

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • The $34.7B comprises both loan guarantees and subsidies as I duly stated above.  In contrast to your $400 billion fantasy figure, here are the real subsidy numbers for you from the Congressional Research Service (The Federal Excise Tax on Gasoline and the Highway Trust Fund: A Short History. Congressional Research Service, March 9, 2012.) and a Department of Energy report specifically requested by Congress (Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010. Energy Information Agency, July 2011. http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/.)
    -Corporate income taxes collected by federal government in 2009 from oil companies: $36B
    -gasoline and diesel excise taxes collected from consumers by fed government in 2010: $32.7 billion (~$6 per barrel of oil refined)
    -Federal subsidies and tax breaks paid to oil companies in 2010: $2.8B = 27 cents per barrel of oil (less than 1/2 cent per gallon of gasoline & diesel) provided to U.S. economy.
    -Federal subsidies and tax breaks given to green energy in 2010: $14.7B
    -Federal subsidies to wind energy in 2010: $31.33 per barrel of oil equivalent energy output.
    -Federal subsidies to solar energy in 2010: $59.60 per barrel of oil equivalent energy output.
    Bottom line: big oil (and informed America) would love for all subsidies to end and for the playing field to be leveled. Biofuels are a huge drag on our economy and make us waste fossil fuels creating them and accommodating them. Ask your power company what
    “spinning reserve” is and why they must waste fossil fuel running coal and gas power plants at idle to be able to supplement fluctuations in wind and solar power on the grid. As Mark Twain once remarked, “I sometimes wonder if the world is run by smart people who are putting us on, or by sincere imbeciles.”

    • i love the omission of historical subsidies and indirect subsidies through externalities that cost us hundreds of billions of dollars… much easier to leave all that out.

      • Cl1ffClav3n

        Want to translate your doublespeak into plain English?  Do you have a problem with the data in a report prepared by the Department of Energy directly for and at the request of Congress?  What authoritative report will you cite for your claims?  How about we consider the “externalities” supporting US farmers and biofuels hucksters?  Double-dipping in refinery money from DOE, loan guarantees and grants from USDA, crop subsidies from USDA, guaranteed markets and prices from EPA, and fuel sales to DOD?  This is an epic scam.

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  • Patrickbec68

    So let me get this right. The US Navy is about to decommission seven Aegis cruisers way before their scheduled end of service dates because of a lack of funds to upgrade them with ballistic missile defense capability ( at a cost of 30 to 50 million per ship) yet can afford to spend over 300 million Dollars for unneeded, uneconomically feasible green fuels. Each of those cruisers would cost 3 billion Dollars to replace, and cost about one billion Dollars when new. The navy will be left with only 14 cruisers in a fleet already crying out for additional surface combatants. The mind simply boggles at this politically correct madness!

    • Zer0Sum

      They don’t have enough fuel to keep them running. Get it now?

  • BTW, consider that this $34.7 billion could have paid $50,000 a year unemployment benefits to 694,000 people, or could have subsidized lower gasoline prices, or could have helped low-income people pay for their heating and air-conditioning bills, and would probably would have done more good and less harm to our economy.

  • Tina, thanks for bringing up jobs.  According to the DOE, $34.7B in taxpayer subsidies and loan guarantees have only produced 60,000 jobs (https://lpo.energy.gov/?page_id=45).  That’s $578,000 per job, displaying the usually government efficiency.  Digging deeper, it turns out only a handful of these jobs are permanent (less than 4,000 according to the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-green-tech-program-that-backed-solyndra-struggles-to-create-jobs/2011/09/07/gIQA9Zs3SK_story.html). 
    The actual federal government outlay per permanent green job is between 4 and 10 million dollars!  The jobs all go away as soon as the subsidies dry up.  Here’s a starter list of major green energy bankruptcies: Verasun, Cello, Range Fuels, Solyndra, Choren, Abound Solar, Pacific Ethanol, Cascade Grain, Renew Energy, Bionol, Clean Burn Fuels, Evergreen Solar, Beacon Power, Ener1, Sterling Energy, etc., etc., ad nauseum, with Gevo, Amyris, Solazyme, and more on the way.  The hundreds of smaller green enterprise bankruptcies are too numerous to list but can be found easily by Googling “ethanol bankruptcy” or similar search string.  The Department of Energy has already spent more than $600 Million on biorefineries since 2010 and now has DOD complicit in funding more while hundreds of failed biorefineries are on the market today for bankruptcy fire sales. We need to stop pouring our children’s future down this bottomless hole.  No amount of money can overcome the unflinching laws of thermodynamics which limit biofuels to being negative energy-balance parasites of civilization’s energy supply.  They simply cannot deliver the EROI and capacity necessary to power modern civilization.  Dead end.

  • Ross

    Sounds like a win-win outcome. 

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