July 16, 2012
Credit: USAF file photo
The U.S. Navy angered Republicans by spending $26 a gallon for biofuels for this week’s Great Green Fleet demonstration, but the Air Force received little attention when it paid twice as much per gallon to test synthetic jet fuel last month.
The Air Force bought 11,000 gallons of alcohol-to-jet fuel from Gevo Inc, a Colorado biofuels company, at $59 a gallon in a program aimed at proving that new alternative fuels can be used reliably in military aircraft - once, that is, their pricing is competitive with petroleum, which now costs $3.60 a gallon.
The cost of the Air Force demonstration - $639,000 - was far less eye-catching than the $12 million the Navy spent for biofuels to power a carrier strike group on alternative energy for a day.
But it was part of the same Pentagon push, which has escalated under the administration of President Barack Obama, to adopt green solutions to rising fuel costs.
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the high price-per-gallon paid by the Navy as wasteful Pentagon spending at a time of significant budget cuts and a shrinking fleet.
They have also blasted Obama for making green energy a cornerstone of his agenda, with federal funds flowing to alternative energy companies that may not make economic sense, as in the case of bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra.
Jeff Scheib, Gevo vice president for fuels, said the alcohol-to-jet fuel made for the Air Force was expensive as it came from a small demonstration plant in Silsbee, Texas, which makes only 7,500 to 8,000 gallons of biofuel a month.
Once the company builds a commercial-scale refinery, expected around 2015, “we believe we can be cost competitive on an all-in basis with petroleum jet fuel over the life of a contract,” Scheib said.