The Wall Street Journal notes that when President Obama took office in 2009, gas was $1.84 per gallon. The latest Lundberg Survey shows gas in Chicago at $4.25. But that’s small potatoes. Wait until you learn what the U.S. Navy pays for Obamagas.
Even loyal Democrats in the Teamsters Union would raise hell if the Obama administration started a biofuel program that bumped a gallon of gas to $10. But not the U.S. Navy. In 2009 Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the Navy to spend $424 per gallon for 20,000 gallons of biofuel from Solazyme, another “green” company like Solyndra — the outfit that went bankrupt after a $535 million loan from the Obama administration.
To be fair, that $424 gas was just the first batch. These days, the admirals have the price of a gallon of biofuel down to a mere $27, instead of the usual $3.60 for conventional fuel. They bought 450,000 gallons based on chicken fat, grease and algae, and used it to power “The Great Green Fleet,” a carrier strike group, for a six-week exercise in July.
Obamagas for The Great Green Fleet cost $12 million and, according to a Department of Defense study, if the Navy burns all the biofuel Secretary Mabus promises, it will add $1.76 billion to the Navy’s annual fuel bill. That is enough to build a new DDG-51 destroyer every year. This, when Mabus plans to reduce ship building from 57 ships to 41 over the next four years.
The Air Force could not escape being drafted into the White House war on fossil fuels, and spent $59 a gallon on alcohol-based jet fuel and $67 a gallon for camelina seed-based F-22 Raptor fuel. To its credit, the Air Force recognized that fuels are a commodity, and the military should not be in the commodity business. So, despite White House plans for the Navy to join the Departments of Energy and Agriculture in spending $510 million for biofuel refineries, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy Kevin Geiss says his branch of the military will not join the alternate fuel program.
The focus by Navy Secretary Mabus on biofuels ignores the fact that the United States has enough coal, oil and gas to last for over a century. Indeed, if the White House encouraged drilling and development of known domestic oil deposits, America would become a net petroleum exporter. But besides the questionable politics of spending taxpayer money on green programs, there are hard data indicating the Navy’s biofuel program is doomed to failure.
James Bartis of the RAND Corporation confirms camelina seeds, chicken fat and algae could be used to make fuel, but points out the stumbling block is scale. The Pentagon uses 321,000 barrels of oil every day, and biofuel companies will need 10 years to ramp up production enough to make a significant difference. Even if research on algae oils is successful, and even if money is available to build a complex collection and transportation infrastructure for grease, seeds and algae, biofuels cannot economically compete with fossil fuels in the foreseeable future. Despite requests from a skeptical Congress, Secretary Mabus has not produced credible plans to address those issues.
Besides the cost and availability of biofuels, there is another major problem on which the Navy is silent. Biofuels are dangerous to military equipment.
In a 2010 study, Rice University professor Pedro Alvarez suggested more study of the effects of biofuels powering ships. He found a “high potential for corrosion on their tanks” because of the bacteria in biofuels.
An engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory agrees with Alvarez. The University of Oklahoma’s Jason S. Lee studied biodiesel on metal and found that, “the blending of biodiesel with traditional diesel resulted in the first known demonstration of localized corrosion of aluminum in the fuel layer itself.”
The Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has raised similar concerns. A study there in 2010 found that, “Dissolved water in biofuels can … contribute to corrosion and stress corrosion cracking. Stress corrosion cracking of mild steel may be of particular concern with ethanol.”
Although the Navy did not reply to requests from Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA), a member of the Armed Services Committee, for comments about corrosion, the Air Force quietly decided to test biofuels before risking costly and dangerous damage to jet engines.
Senator John McCain told National Journal Daily that, “adopting a green agenda for national defense of course is a terrible misplacement of priorities.” He is right. In the interests of national security the Navy should drop biofuels and instead ask the White House and Congress to approve development of America’s abundant and untapped oil resources.
The first voyage of The Great Green Fleet must be its last.
Chet Nagle is a graduate of the Naval Academy, a former Defense Department official and author of the book “Iran Covenant.”