June 19, 2012
Credit: Credit: Laura Goodgame
Renewable fuels for U.S. military ships and jets are likely to remain “far more expensive” than petroleum products absent a technological breakthrough, a study for the U.S. Air Force found on Tuesday, questioning a Pentagon push for alternative energy.
The study by the RAND Corporation think tank said that while the U.S. Defense Department is a huge consumer of fuel at about 340,000 barrels per day, that figure is a tiny fraction of the 87 million barrels per day of global demand, too small to influence price significantly.
Efforts to make fuel from seed or algae oils are not producing at the scale or price necessary to meet the military’s demand at a reasonable cost, said James Bartis, the RAND researcher who authored a volume of the report.
“Pending a major technical breakthrough, renewable jet fuel and marine fuels will continue to be far more expensive than petroleum-based fuels,” he said.
That assessment is likely to stoke the current confrontation in Washington over the Pentagon’s efforts to promote alternative fuels. U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has angered members of Congress by pushing development of biofuels for use in ships and aircraft.
Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed a measure that would bar military spending on biofuels unless they are competitively priced with petroleum.
The move came after the Navy spent $12 million on 450,000 gallons of biofuel to power an exhibition next month of Mabus’s Great Green Fleet, which will use nuclear energy in its aircraft carrier and submarines and a blend of biofuels and petroleum in its cruisers, destroyers and jet aircraft.
Mabus says the U.S. can create a market for alternative fuels that is large enough to drive down prices to the point where they would be competitive with petroleum.