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Military Biofuels Debate Continues: NDAA Could Kill Job, Economic Growth, Report Says

The military biofuels debate continues with the release of a new report that claims military investment would generate more than 14,000 jobs by 2020 and $10 billion in economic activity, among other benefits. Commissioned by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), it claims that military investment would spark the biofuels industry and initiate further investment from other industries such as automotive and airline, but the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could derail progress.

The U.S. Navy particularly has been interested in the biofuels market for some time, pledging to use non-fossil fuel sources for 50 percent of its liquid fuel requirement by 2020.  In July 2012, the Navy showcased its Great Green Fleet at the biennial Rim of the Pacific Demonstration (RIMPAC), which used a 50/50 blend of traditional fuel and 450,000 gallons of algae- and cooking oil-based drop-in biofuels purchased in December 2011 from Solazyme and Dynamic Fuels. The demonstration was deemed a success and the fleet performed without issue, further fueling the military’s passion for biofuels advancement.   

But its ambitious goals have received backlash from several government groups. Just one month before the RIMPAC, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued Pentagon Budget Bill HR 4310 that included a measure to block the military from the development and purchase of biofuels that cost more than fossil fuels. The committee based its decision on military budget cuts, stating in its final report that it preferred funds to be used in vessels and other necessities rather than a new industry.

But after RIMPAC, the Obama Administration approved $62 million for Naval investment in biofuels under the Defense Production Act. The Pentagon also approved $210 million in matching funds to help private companies build three biofuel refineries, each able to produce 10 million gallons of biofuels a year for the military, according to Reuters.

The Navy now faces the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress is expected to address before the end of the year. E2 claims that Congress may remove the Department of Defense’s (DoD) ability to invest in and purchase biofuels from the legislation. 

“Under the current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the Department of Defense (DOD), those plans could be derailed or at the very least cause some major setbacks,” said Nicole Lederer, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs during a press conference. “Collectively these initiatives have become the single most important market signal to the clean energy industry and they constitute the most comprehensive federal energy policy that we have today to advance clean energy technologies in this country.” 

Though a huge benefit, the military isn’t investing in biofuels for environmental reasons — it is purely a national defense issue, explained Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (ret.), president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), during a press conference this week.

“[The U.S. military] is charged by our elected officials to care for the national security of the United States. As they do that, they have to look over the time horizon, five, 10, 20 years out,” said McGinn. “And what they have concluded unanimously is that we have a strategic threat in terms of energy security, economic security, and in many dimensions, environmental security that is caused by an overdependence on fossil fuel, especially oil.”

E2 commissioned High Road Strategies, an industrial, economic and energy consulting firm, to conduct the study based on biofuels goals previously announced by DoD. Below are some highlights from the report (the full report can be found here): 

  • Between $9.6 billion and $19.8 billion of economic activity could be generated by 2020 if the DoD is allowed to meet its previously announced biofuel goals.
  • Between 14,000-17,000 new jobs could be created by 2020. If measured on a job-year basis, the total number of jobs created would be more than double that amount.
  • Of these jobs, more than 3,000 will be agricultural jobs from biomass production, and about 1,200 will be in biorefinery operation. An additional 10,000 jobs will be created from biorefinery construction.
  • These economic and job impacts will be broadly distributed geographically, with the greatest benefits to states that create the strongest incentives for biorefineries.
  • In order to meet the military’s cost and volume targets, advanced biofuel companies are leveraging $3.4 billion of private capital invested since 2007 to build new commercial facilities. 
  • Military demand is helping to shape the early market and scale the advanced biofuel industry, which could help the commercial aviation industry and other industries to meet their hopes and plans to expand their use of biofuels.

"Before the election concluded, there were a lot of politics that enetered the discussion about energy. Energy, especially when talking about the Department of Defense's use of energy, should not be a partisan issue — it is an American national security issue, and we really need to treat it as such," said McGinn. "This biofuels industry is just that, an idustry, and it shouldn't be used as a political football...We hope to move from politics to policy."

Lead image: Stuart Monk via Shutterstock

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