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Biofuels new study shows military can bridge clean energy "valley of death"

Published on October 28th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


Hurricane Sandy Has a Clean Power Message for Mitt Romney, Too

October 28th, 2012 by  

If presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t get Hurricane Isaac’s wind power memo back in August, maybe Hurricane Sandy can catch his attention with a broader message about getting out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. Sandy is on track to hit the mid-Atlantic states fully loaded, and right in its path is one of the most important military facilities in the U.S., Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. For a big fan of military spending like Mr. Romney, that should start some alarm bells ringing.

new study shows military can bridge clean energy "valley of death"

The Navy, Hurricane Sandy, and Climate Change

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been a fierce advocate for clean energy, and he has not been shy about drawing a straight line between national security threats and climate change.

Part of the Navy’s concern is the vulnerability of its coastal stations to rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events associated with climate change. Hurricane Sandy is a case in point. As of this writing, Naval Station Norfolk is expending a considerable amount of effort on preparing for a storm system unlike anything ever seen this far north.


Romney and Clean Technology

Though Romney’s position on clean energy can be a little difficult to pin down, the available evidence points to some key weaknesses. For example, he supports the elimination of the wind tax credit, also known as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power.

The tremendous growth in U.S. wind power industry over the past few years is directly attributable to public support through the PTC. Romney’s idea seems to be that wind power should be able to survive in the marketplace without federal support — though, for what it’s worth, taxpayers have supported all kinds of other fuels for generations.

Another example is Mr. Romney’s support for clean tech R&D. Again, his position isn’t easy to nail, but it seems pretty clear that he strongly supports a continued federal role in foundational research and development. However, he does not support the kind of public-private partnerships that help propel that research into the mass market.

Clean Energy’s “Valley of Death”

Apparently, Mr. Romney is not acquainted with the Clean Technology Valley of Death. That’s the gap that exists between high-risk, cutting edge research in government and academic laboratories, and the availability of private investor dollars that can churn that research into marketable products.

The Department of Energy’s loan program, which began under President Bush, is one example of the ways in which federal support can help bridge that gap.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and while President Obama hasn’t made a major campaign issue out of clean energy his administration has marshaled the resources of multiple federal agencies to expand the federal role in pushing clean tech from the lab to the marketplace.

Aside from the obvious participation of the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and the Navy in particular are the main players in the Obama Administration’s stepped-up clean technology policy.

U.S. Navy and the Future of Clean Energy

Unlike other federal agencies, the Department of Defense is both a deep-pocketed research partner and a very large, very eager customer. For example, as reported numerous times at CleanTechnica and elsewhere, the Navy has used its procurement powers to help kickstart the commercial market for advanced biofuels.

The think tank ITIF has also just come out with a new study on the potential for increasing the commercial aspect of the military’s clean technology initiatives.

This potential is already being realized. One example is the longstanding research partnership between the Navy and the biofuel company Biodico. The partnership began under the Bush administration and it was just expanded to include construction of a Biodico biorefinery right inside a naval station in California.

The new agreement includes continued R&D while the Navy purchases fuel from the biorefinery. The modular and shippable biorefinery, called ARIES, will also reduce utility costs by cogenerating heat and electricity for the station.

ARIES is designed to draw from local, non-food feedstocks and it also has the potential to produce marketable byproducts, helping to offset costs.

When fully integrated, Biodico expects ARIES to produce fuel at or below the cost of its petroleum-based competition.

In any case, if a President Romney turns a deaf ear to messages from hurricanes, perhaps he’ll follow President Obama’s lead and to listen to policymakers at the Department of Defense.

Image (cropped): Navy biofuel in action, some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

h/t for ITIF study: DOD Energy Blog. Check it out!

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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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  • Exit Shrewsbury

    Mr. Maple, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind voting for 4 more years of a socialistic dictatorship and the further destruction of America. Perhaps you can. But I can’t and won’t. God Bless America !

    • You actually believe that Obama is running a “socialist” administration?? I’ll bet you listen to Rush. Like they say “idiot birds of a feather”. Obama is so far right that he may as well be a Republican. I mean seriously, do you know anything about political theory?

      • It’s insane how far the extreme right has pushed us and continues to push us. If it’s good at one thing, it’s convincing a ton of people to shoot themselves in the foot.

  • Don’t be surprised if after the storm Mitt says we need to fight climate charge….and let renewable power stand on its own of course, no subsidies like the oil companies get in the form of free military overseas….

  • Welcome to the climate energy era.

  • Less then two weeks and hopefully we’ll never have to hear about Romney again.

    • Luke

      Current simulations are predicting Obama has a 76.3% chance of being re-elected… google “270 to win”…

  • mk1313

    Mr Romney has his head buried in the sand with nether regions in the air. You know what they say, where there’s no sense there’s no feeling! One has to ask if the stupidity is so apparent how is it he’s running neck and neck with Obama? Are there really that many stupid people in the states that cannot see this guy is driving us all to hell in a hand basket?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Estimates are that Romney is getting at least a 5% advantage because the other candidate is a Ni-CLANG!.


      Blazing Saddles reference for the younguns among us. Google it.

      • mk1313

        Yep, that many stupid people!

    • Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes.

  • At this point I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind voting for Mitt Romney. The lack of climate change initiatives aside, which President Obama has, facts show, made clear advancements in, with the the Romney/Ryan ticket, we have an as yet “un-determined” economic/jobs plan that “somehow” adds up to 12,000,000 jobs, a tax system with no details (other than that the rich will pay no more than now, which studies show most Americans agree is too little), while adding “trillions” to the military which they have not asked for, all as the social equality and equal rights of minorities (women, visual minorities, GLBT, victims of sexual assault, religious minorities) greatly worsen. Who on earth would choose to vote for this? It certainly isn’t going to ensure American success, peace or prosperity. It certainly isn’t kind. It certainly isn’t forward. And it certainly isn’t Christian.

    • Bob_Wallace

      To be fair to Mr. Romney, most economists calculate that if our economy cranks along at its current slow growth rate we will add about 12,000,000 new jobs over the next four years. A President Romney would have to create no new jobs on his own and still end up with a +12 million job growth record.

      It’s like Romney promising to produce 1,460 sunrises during his first term.

      The danger is that Romney could, probably would, take us back to Bushonomics and destroy the 12 million jobs that we should get on autopilot.

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