Even if the battle over the consumer gasoline tank continues – the U.S. military is moving forward with biofuels.  Mission security and national security depend on energy security. Refueling activities put troops in harm’s way, and the need for petroleum-based fuel increases our national security risk.  The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes that dependence on petroleum is unsustainable.  Every aspect of fuel dependence exposes troops to risk.  According to Senator Mark Udall, “every fuel convoy on the roads [in] Afghanistan places our men and women in uniform at risk … We’ve suffered over 3,000 casualties in attacks on [fuel] convoys since 9/11.”  To reduce this risk, DOD has made immense strides towards the goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2020.  To that end, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), introduced a bill on April 30 that would increase energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel dependency in the U.S. military.  The Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2014 builds on the work of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and previous laws, such as the mandate for military use of biofuels under the farm-to-fleet program.  It would improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles and generators, lighten batteries, and establish intra-branch cooperation on energy efficiency -- with the goal being a reduction in the number of dangerous fuel convoys and overall reduction of energy needs.  Sen. Udall and Rep. Peters hope to have the energy efficiency measures included in the next National Defense Authorization Act. According to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, "You probably don't think of Marines as ardent environmentalists, but, as always, Marines are leading the way in providing that renewable energy … Alternative energy saves lives." 

The Navy is especially sensitive to price fluctuations for a gallon of oil. Every dollar price increase in a barrel of oil costs the Navy $30 million dollars per year, and increases in domestic oil production do not shield the military, or consumers, from global oil prices.  The Department of Navy announced in late April that it is moving beyond demonstration levels in its quest to secure advanced biofuels at less than $4 per gallon.  The news is the culmination of many years of work in the Navy’s farm-to-fleet program, made possible by the Defense Production Act (Pub. L. 81 – 774), an obscure Korean War-era law that allows the Department of Defense to fund projects which are not yet commercially feasible.  The huge Navy investment in biofuels has also helped drive down consumer costs. Within a few years the price of a gallon of biofuels has dropped from hundreds of dollars for a gallon of experimental fuel, to an average price of less than $3.50 a gallon today.  According to Acting Undersecretary of the Navy Tom Hicks, the investment has paid off, and the Navy has recently signed contracts for a total of 170 million gallons of drop-in biofuels to be supplied to the Navy beginning in 2016. The biofuels will be sourced from advanced feedstocks such as organic waste, municipal trash and construction and building materials waste.  The Navy has stated that its engineers and operators have detected no difference in the performance or effects of these biofuels on equipment in ships or aircraft, save for one - - they require fewer fuel filters when using biofuels!  Later this summer, the Navy also plans to issue two biofuel solicitations, for an additional 800 million gallons of biofuels each year, as part of a program jointly administered by the Navy and the Department of Agriculture.  For now, the Navy will use a 10 percent blend, but expects to quickly move to a fuel source that is 50/50 oil and biofuel blend.

The use of biofuels in military applications will not only increase national security, it will reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), the primary cause of climate change.   The use of biofuels will reduce GHG by 50 to 90 percent as compared to gasoline, according to research from Argonne National Laboratory. The Department of Defense sees climate change as a threat-multiplier. Secretary Mabus commented, “sea level rises, instability follows, and our [military] responsibility increases… It is happening whether or not we want to believe it or not and [it] will have an impact on our military.”  The Navy is confident that their investments have helped drive alternative fuels to be cost-competitive with petroleum, with Mabus stating “this is really going to be the start of the new normal.”  The U.S. military is the single largest consumer of fuels in the world – at $15 billion per year.  Their purchasing power has the possibility to provide a paradigm shift in the world of alternative fuels.  Global safety and security depend on a “new normal”, as climate change presents a ‘clear and present danger’ to the United States, and the world.


For More information see:

Federal News Radio, Navy Plans Actions This Year on Two Large Pathways to Alternative Fuel

The Hill, Dems Want to Boost Military Energy Efficiency

Sustainable Business, US Navy Says Biofuels Are New Normal

AZ Central, Navy Pushes Alternative Fuels, Citing Safety and Costs


Author: Jessie Stolark