Pew report highlights role of advanced biofuels for U.S. military

| September 27, 2011

The Pew Charitable Trusts report, titled “From the Barracks to the Battlefield”, highlights the linkages between energy, national security, the economy and the environment, and according to Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, “few institutions reflect the intersection of these issues more than the Department of Defense.” The Pew report, a 74-page document detailing the role of the armed forces with clean innovation, provides three major takeaways, according to Cuttino.

The first major takeaway, that clean energy innovation serves the interests of the DOD, is highlighted in the report by a number of statistics. On average, the report indicates that it takes 22 gallons of fuel per soldier per day to support combat operations. When compared to the fuel use per soldier per day recorded during the Vietnam War, the difference is a fuel increase of 175 percent. And, the report states, 80 percent of the shipments into Iraq consist of fuel and one in 46 of all convoys are attacked by insurgents. “In 2010 alone,” Cuttino said, “more than 1,000 soldiers or private contractors were killed from attacks on fuel convoys by insurgents.”

The second major takeaway of the report shows that the DOD can bring a broad range of strengths that can help accelerate and commercialize clean energy technology, all because of an expansive research and development system, the purchasing power of the DOD, and as Cuttino said, the culture, the discipline and the management structure. The third takeaway is linked to the second; showing that strength of the DOD through $10 billion, the amount Cuttino said the DOD will invest into clean energy technology over the next decade.

According to the report, in fiscal year 2005 the DOD spent $8.8 billion for 130 million barrels of petroleum supplies, but in fiscal year 2008, the DOD spent $17.9 billion for the same amount of barrels, more than double the cost for almost the same amount of barrels. In mid-2011, the report also pointed out, the U.S. Air Force paid $1 per gallon more for gasoline than the previous months. That information, combined with the purchasing power and requirements of the DOD also highlight the role the DOD can play in helping clean energy succeed. On a per year basis, the DOD buys $400 billion worth of goods and services. “This purchasing power can be a crucial lifeline to fledgling technologies and companies working to usher technologies across the so called “Valley of Death” between the idea and commercial viability stages of business development,” the report explained.

While the report highlighted several areas of clean energy innovation that the DOD could impact, including energy efficiency and energy storage, the report outlined some of the most recent efforts by the DOD that involved advanced biofuels. The DOD has worked with Honeywell UOP and General Atomics for testing jet fuel, and Solazyme for the same thing. Solazyme produced an algal biomass component for use in the end fuel at manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania, shipped the dried algae to Iowa where the oil was extracted before finally going into the refinement stage in Texas, all before the final blending stage that took place at NAS Patuxent in Maryland, a naval air station.

“The Department of Defense fostered the Internet, GPS, computer software and other economically important innovations,” said John Warner, former U.S Senator and Secretary of the Navy. “Today, our uniformed men and women and their civilian counterparts are committed to transforming the way the department uses energy through efficiency and technology development.”