Meg Cichon, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
September 17, 2012 | 37 Comments
“We believe the ongoing military and civil aviation efforts must be continued and we strongly advocate that you prioritise and fund investment in aviation biofuels in what we all acknowledge is a difficult fiscal environment,” explained the coalition.
“Ultimately, we are convinced that this is an investment that will pay off by saving taxpayers millions through achieving energy security and independence.” The coalition also argued that further investment in bioenergy will help reach their fuel efficiency and carbon emissions targets, which includes a lofty goal of a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 from 2005 figures.
The jobs and cost argument
The Department of Agriculture has teamed up with the military to further advance the biofuels industry, which officials claim could not only enhance energy independence, but could also create a robust, advanced jobs market and reduce consumer fuel prices.
Vilsack explained that with biofuels investment, the Navy is leading the way to create a bio-based economic opportunity in rural areas with manufacturing opportunities and new income sources with crops like algae, switchgrass and miscanthus. Farmers and other producers can enter this new economy without competing with food crops like corn.
“The biofuel industry in the U.S. currently employs around 400,000 people directly and indirectly, and once we reach the threshold of renewable fuels set forth in the renewable fuels standard that could actually increase to one million people,” said Vilsack. He also argues that military investment and biofuels growth, which create competition in the fuel industry, will help reduce fluctuations in prices and lower costs at the pump.
This point is echoed by Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America, which produces cellulosic ethanol with plants in Nebraska. He argues that a budding biofuels industry will not only benefit the military, but many private companies such as airlines, shipping and trucking.
“In the end, consumers will benefit with lower-priced goods and less-expensive fuel that is less bound to oil prices,” he said.
Proving the naysayers wrong
The military successfully launched the Great Green Fleet at RIMPAC in July 2012, using the advanced drop-in biofuels without issue. Mabus explained that the atmosphere at the demonstration was one of pride and hope for a biofuels future.
“It was absolutely worthwhile to show that biofuels can compete and can be used in every single thing that we do in the Navy,” said Mabus. “This shows that we can use biofuels and other alternative energies in an operational manner.”
Heather Zichal, Secretary of Energy, expressed the Obama Administration’s frustration with the Committee in a press call during the Great Green Fleet demonstration at RIMPAC. She explained that the Administration stands behind their “all of the above” energy strategy, which includes biofuels investment.
“We view the efforts of some in Congress to undermine the military’s ability to invest in alternative fuels as both disappointing and shortsighted,” Zichal said. “I believe that the successful demonstration by the Great Green Fleet [at RIMPAC] should help Congress better understand the tremendous opportunity we have with biofuels to help power our Navy.”
After the completion of RIMPAC in August, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a spending bill that allowed $70 million for Naval investment in biofuels. It also included $100 million for the Defense Production Act, which allocates money to increase production capacity of defense-related initiatives. The House version of the bill allowed $50 million in general funds for defense initiatives.
Both measures are set to move to the full Senate for consideration and reconciliation of changes with the House in the autumn of 2012, which is also when a full vote is expected.
Now that the Navy has proved that drop-in technology works, it plans to collaborate with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to increase production and lower costs. The team is planning several pilot projects, accepting proposals and recruiting companies that are willing to work with nonfood feedstocks. Vilsack expects to choose participants by early autumn 2012.
Mabus also emphasized that the Navy will not buy large amounts of biofuels until they are cost-competitive, and this program will work to get them there.
“One of the ways [technologies] become cost-competitive is by the military providing a market for it, and we’ve done that with technology, after technology after technology,” said Mabus.
The Department of Energy is also committed to the Renewable Fuels Standard and believes research and development in biofuels is a major factor in reaching that goal. This is why, Vichal explained, the government has taken many steps to develop technologies and accelerate new technology R&D in labs and at commercial scale.
“Barriers to bioenergy programs send negative signals to the public and market about the ability and technology in our industry,” said Monroe. “Putting up barriers prevents industries from experiencing these benefits — and the savings they generate.”
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