REPORT: Navy’s Biofuels Program Is A Huge Step Backwards

Courtesy Jake Greenberg/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The U.S. Navy’s biofuels program has “failed to demonstrate any operational or strategic advantages over petroleum and have actually increased costs” for the military, according to a new report by defense experts.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the biofuel-powered “Great Green Fleet” would “usher in the next era of Navy and Marine Corps energy innovation,” but it’s only taken the military backwards, writes Heritage Foundation experts Rachel Zissimos and Katie Tubb.

“In previous cases, innovation addressed a clear military need,” they wrote. “However, the Great Green Fleet bears little resemblance to the Navy’s evolution of energy use.”

In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered the Navy to diversify its energy sources by using biofuels. The Obama administration based the decision on former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis’ call to “unleash” the Corps from “the tether of fuel.” Mattis is now President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense.

Military operations are restricted by fuel, most of which comes from petroleum. Tanks, ships and planes can only go so far and for so long without refueling. That means huge fuel convoys traversing the globe put American lives at risk.

Mattis wanted to promote technologies to break that, including solar panels and wind turbines. But the Green Fleet did nothing to break the fuel tether holding back military operations.

Zissimos and Tubb explain that “both petroleum and biofuels are liquid, occupy the same volume, and must be transported to the point of use.”

“Furthermore, since advanced biofuels and oil are of a comparable energy density, they do not provide any advantage in fuel efficiency or power output,” they wrote in their report. “There is no difference to the warfighter—no decrease in convoys and no less cumbersome a logistics requirement. The tether between combat forces and their sources of supply remains intact.”

Republican lawmakers sharply criticized Mabus’ Green Fleet after its 2012 maiden voyage. The Green Fleet used a 50 percent biofuel-blend fuel that cost $27 per gallon — nearly eight times more expensive than conventional petroleum.

The Navy eventually scaled back its ambitions, and used fuel blended with 5 percent palm oil biofuels for the Green Fleet’s 2016 Mediterranean voyage.

But even then, the biofuel the Navy used cost $13.46 per gallon compared to the $1.60 per gallon price of conventional fuels.

The Navy has spent at least $58 million buying expensive alternative fuels to satisfy its “political dogma,” according a recent report by Arizona Republican Sen.John McCain’s office on Defense Department waste.

They found that “between fiscal year 2007 and fiscal year 2014, DOD purchased 32 billion gallons of conventional petroleum products at a cost of $107.2 billion or $3.35 per gallon.”

“During the same period, it purchased two million gallons of alternative fuel at a cost of $58.6 million or $29.30 per gallon,” McCain’s office reported.

Zissimos and Tubb similarly warn against the Navy’s fuel policy being driven by “a political agenda.”

“The DOD is inarguably dependent on petroleum, but the fuel is not in short supply, and the risks and limitations associated with petroleum dependency will not be solved with a shift to biofuel,” they wrote.

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