Military biofuels report prompts urges for congressional support

By Anna Simet | November 14, 2012

The U.S. military’s plans to expand its use of biofuel would generate at least $10 billion in economic activity and create more than 14,000 jobs by 2020, according to a new report commissioned by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).

Though the military’s intentions would jump-start the advanced biofuel market, according to E2, the outcome is hinged on whether the National Defense Authorization Act—which would prohibit the military from expanding its use of biofuel—is passed by Congress in the coming weeks.

During a media briefing unveiling the report’s findings, Nicole Lederer, cofounder of E2, described the initiatives of the military as the single most important market signal to the clean energy industry. It constitutes the most comprehensive U.S. federal energy policy to advance clean energy technologies today, she said. “They [the military] are doing it for national security objectives; suffice to say, the military believes alternative fuels are mission-critical from an installations, operational and budgetary perspective.”

But despite the military’s national security-driven reasons for developing drop in biofuels, Lederer said, there are some in Congress who question whether these initiatives are in fact relevant to national security, and whether they are worth the price.

With the NDAA coming up to a vote in the Senate within the next few weeks, E2 commissioned a report to provide more clarity around the value of DOD’s investments in the biofuel industry to the American economy. Some of the report’s core findings include: 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 and 17,000 new jobs could be created by 2020; and out of the jobs created, 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.

“The big message, not to be missed here, is what we’re looking at is the tip of an ice berg,” Lederer said. “Military demand is helping to scale the advanced biofuels industry into a much larger market, including civil, commercial and aviation, and this could be similar to other trajectories of other technology revolutions started by the DOD, like semi-conductors, global position systems, aviation and the internet.”  

Dennis McGinn, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, reiterated Lederer’s remarks, adding that the military’s advanced biofuel mission isn’t because of environmental considerations, although it is a huge benefit. Rather, it is pushing the initiative forward for its bottom line of operations sufficiency and combat effectiveness. “They are charged by our elected officials with caring for the national security of the U.S. and as they do it, they have to look out into the horizon—5, 10, 20 years out…they are trying to broaden the military’s portfolio of energy available to them in years to come.”

McGinn added that the U.S. needs Congress to support the military’s initiative and not stand in its way.

Russ Teall, president and founder of biorefinery builder Biodico, which recently signed an agreement to provide advanced biofuels to the Navy, said the company’s relationship with the Navy dates back to 2002 with the signing of a cooperative research and development agreement. “We are building a prototype for a modular biorefinery that can be deployed throughout the U.S. and the world, and the vision is for a distributed network of these facilities to provide fuel for the U.S. economy, privately capitalized, owned and operated,” he said.

Teall added that it cannot be predicted when the next oil crisis will occur, but the U.S. needs to be prepared. “We need to ensure that partisan politics do not interfere with national security.”

Click here to download a full copy of E2’s report, “The Economic Benefits of Military Biofuels.”