Biofuels Get the Axe

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Since about 1973, the year of the first oil embargo, muddle-headed politicians from both parties have used the absurd idea of "energy independence" as a campaign talking point that rube voters will swill like free beer. But in the ugly trench warfare of daily politics, their actual votes sometimes undermine this supposed apple-pie-and-motherhood, all-purpose good thing.

That's what a Republican-led group in the House Armed Services Committee did last week when it voted to kill the Department of Defense's plan to run its airplanes on a blend of half biofuel and half conventional Jet A by the year 2017. Slipped into the defense department's appropriation is language that would prohibit the services from spending more for fuel than they do for traditional fossil fuels. If it sounds like an amendment written by an oil company lobbyist, it probably is.

If this vote stands, the effects are far reaching, especially for the Navy, whose ambitious "Green Fleet" plans foresee the service running entirely on a 50-50 blend of fossil and biofuels by 2017. (For more on this, listen to this podcast.) As early as next month, the Navy hoped to put a battle group to sea fueled entirely on a bio-fuel blend. Both the Navy and Air Force have extensively tested aviation bio-fuels refined from camelina and are satisfied that they perform as well as fossil fuels.

So what's the problem? The cost, obviously, which is variously estimated at more than twice to as much to four times as much as fossil fuels. Blending the two helps reduce that cost, but the blend is still more expensive. The military's concern here is mostly about supply security and the cost of delivering the fuel—both in dollars and lives lost in protecting fuel convoys against attacks. The Pentagon recently estimated that in Afghanistan, it costs $400 a gallon to get fuel in theater. Even if that's an exaggeration by ten fold, it's obviously expensive to fuel military operations and always has been. This cost may be meant to suggest a geopolitical price, too. If we're less dependent on imported oil, maybe we're less inclined to enter wars where it's extracted.

The justification for spending more on biofuels is that in doing so, the services would be priming the pump to drive up the volume, lower costs and improve efficiency in a way that would make biofuels more competitive not just for the services, but for civilian buyers of Jet A, too. In other words, it's really a government subsidy to support an emerging industry. Let's see, where have I heard this argument before? Oh, yeah…that's what the corn state pols—many of them fiscally conservative Republicans—said when they enacted tax credits for the ethanol industry. Thirty years into that, we have $6 billion in government handouts going mainly to three large producers of ethanol, a fuel that isn't green, no one likes and has about as much chance of assuring energy independence as converting the railroads back to wood-fired steam.

The problem here isn't the principle. The idea that government R&D should fund industries and/or ideas that eventually become economic, profitable entities is sound and the country has flourished doing this very thing. Think about nuclear energy, the microchip, the internet, penicillin—it was a USDA lab that figured out how to increase yield. The list is long. The problem is knowing when to stop shoveling funds into the public trough so the embryonic industry can live or die of its own economic vitality.

Left to their own devices, elected officials would struggle with such decisions but, beholden as they are to special-interest money, sensible long-term public policy is all but extinct. The proof is in the ethanol program, which any sane person could only conclude has been an enormous boondoggle. But does that mean that the DOD's green fuel initiative will go the same way?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Although the green lobby persistently overstates the economics and importance of biofuels, that doesn't mean they have no role. That the economics haven't worked yet is not an argument that they never will. We are still firmly in the age of oil and the fact that technology is yielding yet more hydrocarbons, not less, complicates the emergence of biofuels.

But just because that's true now, doesn't mean it will be in 20 years, which means that the House's vote to kill DOD's plans looks fiscally sound, but just stupidly short sighted. Energy conversion transformations happen in decade scales, not years or months. And sometimes, research leads to expensive blind alleys. The Navy's Green Fleet plans may be one of those, but it's worth taking it a little further to find out, in my view.

If I were king, I'd kill ethanol's $6 billion free ride and give half the money to DOD for bio-fuel research with a statutory limit of say, seven years. But that may make far too much sense, I guess.

Comments (79)

Bio fuel is a waste of taxpayer dollars and of everyone's time. The chemistry is simple and very well understood. Hell, we could make Jet-A from recycled candy canes and/or bagged cow farts - if we really wanted to. Just because we CAN do something, doesn't mean we should do it.

Ethanol in gasoline is a cruel joke perpetrated upon Americans. Let's not endorse cruelty with more subsidies for something that we demonstrably do NOT need.

Refining petroleum is the simplest, least-costly, and most effective means of creating jet fuel. Envy-based hatred of petroleum companies won't change the chemistry of hydrocarbons. Aviation biofuels are a solution in search of a problem.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 22, 2012 11:38 AM    Report this comment

Aviation bio-fuel isn't a waste if it leads to an unleaded aviation fuel. And with the future supply of TEL in question (even if it will be around for another 10, 20, whatever years), shouldn't we be looking at ALL options? Maybe bio-fuel won't be part of the solution, but how can we know if we never try?

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 22, 2012 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Gary: Creating Jet-A from pond scum has NOTHING to do with removing tetraethyl lead from gasoline. The latter is all about deflagration vs detonation in high-compression spark-ignited engines. Bio-jet is about poly-sci majors telling chemistry majors how to do their business. And paying for their arrogance/ignorance with someone else's money. It ever has been thus.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 22, 2012 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Whiskey belongs in a drinking glass, not our gas tanks.

If we want liquid fuel based energy independence (in the sense of not needing to import it) we need to start synthesizing hydrocarbons. Build a crap load of new nuclear power (~2TW worth) and use the energy not demanded by the grid to make methanol from CO2 and H2O (plus a catalyst). Dehydrate some of that methanol to produce dimethylether. Use the methanol to replace gasoline and the DME to replace diesel. As long as oil is ~$90-100/barrel or higher the costs are competitive, even with the hideous costs today in getting a new nuke plant approved and built.

Methanol will require modifications to cars so they can handle it, but that's a lot cheaper than some of the alternatives. Airplanes would have other issues with running on essentially pure alcohol, and might have to remain on gasoline. I would think that going to injected engines with high-ish pressure fuel systems would be necessary, but that's just a (slightly) informed guess. Of course, for the same volume of fuel range is significantly reduced. In cars that’s not such a big deal, just design a bigger tank. Small airplanes though would see significant problems with that aspect. Energy content is about half that of gasoline so you’d need almost 2x the mass of fuel for a given range.

cont.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 22, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment

DME is superior to #2 diesel in almost every way. Maybe not in terms of lubricity. But gasoline has no lubricity and we've had engines running on it for a century, so I'm sure that's not a huge barrier. So as a very long term solution to piston GA this would work. There's other challenges I'm sure (TANSTAAFL). Whether it will work in turbines I don't know as I haven't focused my OCD in that direction. It might (should) be great. It might be terrible.

This avoids the need to divert food into fuel, keeps most of the existing infrastructure in place, solves whatever dubious environmental problems we generate with fossil fuels, provides us with a supply only constrained by our electricity generating capacity, and would create a whole lot of jobs over a fairly long time line.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 22, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment

Paul, the costs of liquid biofuels are not estimated and they are not 2-4 times as much as fossil fuels, but 10-20 times as much and more. The U.S. Navy just set a new world record in February by paying $245,000 to Albemarle Corp. for 55 gallons of jet fuel made from 100 gallons of biobutanol. This works out to be $4,454.55 a gallon, and that does not include the cost for the Cobalt biobutanol itself which is made from trees (BTW, where is the Sierra Club in all this?). This surpasses the previous world record, also held by the Navy, in paying $427 a gallon for Solazyme algae oil in 2009. The lowest price the U.S. military has paid for biofuels since 2007 is $26.75 a gallon for 450,000 gallons of Tyson chicken fat residue-based fuel from Dynamic Fuels. Amyris, one of the biggest biofuel ventures, just announced it is abandoning drop-in biodiesel fuel for cosmetics and industrial chemicals because it couldn't get its price below $29 a gallon, and even then was losing money. In 2010, the U.S. military paid $2.31 a gallon for conventional jet and diesel fuel. It follows in the footsteps of Gevo and Range Fuels. If more politicians and business people and average Americans had a decent STEM education, they would see crop-based biofuels for what they are: the vain chemical equivalent of the pursuit of perpetual motion and a guaranteed path back to a pre-industrial economy.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 22, 2012 1:40 PM    Report this comment

As far as I'm concerned, I take the Sarah Palin approach: "drill, baby, drill!"

A reasonable estimate leads me to believe that it'll take 20 - 30 years before a marketable alternative to fossil fuel is developed—I suspect this will be the refining (no pun intended) of solar, nuclear and battery technologies. Conservative estimates point to the fact that the U.S. has anywhere between a 100 to 200 year domestic oil reserve at current consumption rates—even longer if the electrification schedule is advanced.

For a host of reasons, in the future fossil fuel will be reserved for commercial manufacturing, agricultural and freight transportation uses. The increasing levels of sophistication in communications will mean that physical transportation of humans will decrease significantly. I forsee a time in the not-too-distant future whereby oil will become an "annoyance" and a pesky sidebar for advanced societies. A keynote of how advanced a society can be assessed on what, and how, it burns things. We've migrated from external combustion (open bonfires, etc.), to internal combustion, and now the next challenge will be no combustion. The brainpower exists to accomplish that task in the next 2 or 3 decades ... onward, America!

Posted by: Phil Derosier | May 22, 2012 5:29 PM    Report this comment

For cars, I like ethanol for the following reasons: One, it has an antiknock (octane) rating well north of 100. Second: While ethanol does have issues, it is a more pleasant fuel than methanol for spark-ignited engines. I have heard criticism of C2H5OH such as, the corn grown to produce ethanol ought to be used for food instead. Unfortunately there's a lot of ignorance on this matter from some of these critics. As long as we most of us insist on not being vegetarians, animals destined for the slaughterhouse must be fed. Instead of feeding them corn, why not feed them the protein by-product (distiller's grain) left over from ethanol production? Which is, in fact, the standard practice.

For airplanes: We have all heard of electric airplanes not only proposed but actually flying. My proposal is, if you are willing to accept reduced flight time from an electric aircraft vis-a-vis 100LL-fueled piston planes, why not consider piston-powered aircraft using ethanol instead of avgas?

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 23, 2012 7:06 AM    Report this comment

Battery technology is a problem. If it takes you 10 hours to recharge how are you going to use an electric plane for a cross country trip? Fuel Cell technology using hydrogen as a fuel to generate electricity is a solution that can be used now. Honda has a car that already runs off of it. You can refuel in a few minutes and the engineering problems are, I think, less than trying to reengineer gas from plants. We can make fuel cells abundantly, Hydrogen fuel stations can be built as easily as a gas station, Hydrogen is very abundant and easy to generate. Couple it with abundant nuclear plants for generation of electricity and we could be fuel independent in a decade (as far as cars go)plus they do not have the problem of having to be swapped out in a few years. Any thoughts on this technology?

Posted by: Rodney Hall | May 23, 2012 7:54 AM    Report this comment

Hydrogen may be "very abundant", but not as a single element. There exist ways to extract hydrogen from other things (such as water or fossil fuels), but they are energy intensive, and in the case of extracting from fossil fuels, no greener than just burning the fuel itself.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 23, 2012 8:17 AM    Report this comment

Now that thorough life-cycle studies are finally emerging, it turns out that liquid biofuels are worse that fossil fuels across the board. 1. They are more damaging to the environment (deforestation and land use change, increased land and water poisoning from fertilizer nitrates, same or worse combustion emissions) 2. Larger greenhouse gas footprint (carbon and nitrous oxide released from fossil fuels and fertilizers in cultivation). 3. Huge water footprint (10,000 liters of water per liter of fuel, compared to less than 7 for gasoline). 4. Negative energy balance (costing more energy to make than they provide back to civilization (EROI of corn ethanol is 1.25 and it goes down from there). 5. More volatile in price that oil, and their price tracks oil (when oil went up 6% over Libya crisis, ethanol went up 8%). 6. Contain less energy per gallon than diesel or gasoline unless hydrotreated (a process which delivers a low increase in performance at high cost and can also be done to diesel and gasoline if refineries were that stupid). Conclusion: When the $6B a year in farming subsidies and $10.70 a barrel in refiner subsidies and $1.01 a gallon in tax credits for ethanol finally dry up, no one will voluntarily use it for fuel.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 23, 2012 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I have stated on other web forums, that the biggest myth about hydrogen is that some folks think H2 is Mother Nature's preferred fuel. I don't agree with that, and here's why: If you shovel various dinner-table wastes or cattle/ poultry/ swine leavings into an anaerobic digestion chamber, the flammable gas that results is methane (the principal component of natural gas), not hydrogen. If you're going to use fuel cells in motor vehicles, hydrogen has merit. But other than that, I see nothing hydrogen can do that methane or natural gas can't do at least as well. Let's look at motor vehicles: When using compressed natural gas, the practice is to use 3600 lb/square inch storage pressure to get a decent range. With hydrogen, you need 5000 psi, unless some means has been found to store H2 without high pressure. That may be OK albeit difficult for motor vehicles. For airplanes? Forget it. I see no way you can use 3600, let alone 5000 psi H2 or CNG storage pressure in aircraft. Liquid hydrogen is of course used for rockets, but let's remember that the mighty Saturn V booster used a fuel very much like Jet A for the first stage where volume is critical, with LH2 in the upper stages where weight is more critical.

Re nuclear power: I like the idea of nuclear power. Even after the Fukushima disaster, I still don't believe we should give up on nuclear power for all time. If anyone on this forum can sell that idea to his or her congressperson, senator of governor, I'll be happy for it.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 23, 2012 8:46 AM    Report this comment

As to hydrogen, the world already runs on a hydrogen economy. There is 63% more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline than in a gallon of liquid hydrogen. Packing hydrogen together efficiently at room temperature in long and extremely useful molecules is the miracle of carbon--that substance that is also the basis for life and yet that so many are trying to demonize as a pollutant. It would help if we had some hard science majors in our government helping to corral the lawyers and poli-sci majors and eco-terrorists.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 23, 2012 8:53 AM    Report this comment

For the folks advocating replacing gasoline with ethanol: Who's gonna pay for the conversion costs for my 2000 Subaru, or my roommate's 1998 Toyota, to run on ethanol? Or the incredible numbers of piston singles that were never designed for ethanol fuels?

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 23, 2012 9:23 AM    Report this comment

@J.M.: Cars built starting around 2001 or so, can handle E10 (10% ethanol, the rest gasoline) without problems. Cars that have been built during the last few years, can handle E15 or even (if designated as "Flexfuel") E85. Hopefully for cars built before the turn of the current century, gasoline containing no more than 10% ethanol will remain available. BTW one reason why I'm not thrilled about methanol for cars is, its a more aggressive chemical than ethanol and therefore, more likely to cause problems.

Regarding airplanes: If the price of 100LL goes through the roof and if E-whatever can attain 100 octane without the least bit of lead, we can expect to see at least some homebuilders take on the challenge of modifying Corvair engines, or Lycomings or whatever, to tolerate ethanol. A professor at Baylor University has done a lot of work on ethanol fuel, such as using Alodyne coatings to enable aluminum fuel tanks to handle ethanol without corrosion problems and modifying engines to tolerate (and better yet, take advantage of) the characteristics of ethanol. I saw ethanol-fueled planes at Oshkosh a number of years ago. So it can be done.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 23, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

'If I were king, I'd kill ethanol's $6 billion free ride and give half the money to DOD for bio-fuel research with a statutory limit of say, seven years. But that may make far too much sense, I guess.'

So would I, and yes it might, but it's irrelevant to the current discussion of being pummeled by the wise on technical one-upmanship on subjects having nothing to do with the Department of Defense's current relationship with the House Armed Services Committee and the huge impact this ruling could have for all service personnel and future military budgets.

Hidden in the storyline is the germ of the idea - 'elected officials.., beholden as they are to special-interest money, sensible long-term public policy is all but extinct.' As dangerous as they may seem, eco-terrorists and environmental saboteurs don't hold a candle to the power and influence of these politicians who want to micromanage experienced military brass like Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and others. I find the unwillingness to compromise and see the bigger picture by more and more politicians in Washington and across the country very disturbing, and if the planned demonstration by the Navy's 'Green fleet' in July isn't allowed to happen, what a sad state we have devolved into.

For the poster who queried about the Sierra club and their interest in the use of trees for the biofuel process, I can probably hook you up with a number or web page if you're still interested. Thanks so much for your question.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 23, 2012 11:02 AM    Report this comment

"For the folks advocating replacing gasoline with ethanol: Who's gonna pay for the conversion costs for my 2000 Subaru, or my roommate's 1998 Toyota, to run on ethanol? Or the incredible numbers of piston singles that were never designed for ethanol fuels?"

I don't favor ethanol (or any "bio" sourced fuel), but if alcohol fuels of some sort become the standard the person that will pay for those conversions will be the owners. When the choice becomes paying a couple thousand dollars to retrofit or paying tens of thousands to buy a new vehicle, or paying double/triple the fuel costs to not convert the choice will be easy.

Consider too that even in the most wild eyed fanatics dreams such a conversion can't happen for a couple decades at least. So that 2000 Subie or 1998 Toyota will be long since off the road before it becomes an issue. If it becomes likely and foreseeable by the time you need to replace that car you'll no doubt shop for one that will involve minimal (or no) cost to make it tolerant of (m)ethanol.

All of this, however, is academic right now. As it stands there is no economical way to produce anything other than gasoline as a fuel for cars or light GA, and there's nothing on the near term horizon that will change that.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 23, 2012 11:35 AM    Report this comment

"As long as we most of us insist on not being vegetarians ..."

Look at the teeth in your mouth, and tell me why we're not supposed to eat at least some meat. You can make your own choice, but the majority of the world disagrees with you on that topic.

Regardless of the above, diverting food crop land into fuel crop land reduced the supply of food. That causes food prices to go up. And considering that corn is the primary source for EtOH and corn is also a primary source for our food (whether directly, in our meat, or as a major ingrediant in a lot of our other foods) diverting that land use to fuel production is a bad idea.

If we're going to convert for a gasoline economy to an alcohol economy we'd be far better off to produce the alcohol synthetically. The process is already well understood, and while current state of the industry would require natural gas or coal as the feedstock, the process of using CO2 and H2O is well understood and with sufficient energy generation capability could be done economically (at least in theory - time will tell if that turns into reality).

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 23, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Right now, billions of gallons of methanol are being produced per year by carbon monoxide/hydrogen synthesis, usually with natural gas as the feedstock. The Chinese are using coal, but I am not enamored of doing that here in America. There have been proposals to make it mandatory for cars to be able to run on methanol, ethanol, gasoline or any combination thereof. But given the pressure the auto industry is under to meet 50+ MPG fuel economy mandates and ever more stringent safety requirements, I am against such proposals.

Methanol is more unpleasant to work with than ethanol. Compared to ethanol, methanol is more corrosive, has a lower energy content, and when added to gasoline in low percentages, has more issues with vapor pressure and water-induced phase separation.

If we are to utilize natural gas as a raw material for hydrogen-carbon monoxide synthesis, I would like to see catalysts developed to synthesize not pure methanol but rather, a mixture of methanol, ethanol, propanol and butanol. Properly tailored mixtures of alcohols might be what we are looking for in providing a good combination of energy content and antiknock characteristics.

I hope too that eventually, enzymes will be developed that can economically break down cellulose into simple sugars for subsequent fermentation to ethanol. I would like to see researchers unlock the secret of how termites digest wood. Perhaps that could make large scale production of cellulosic ethanol a reality.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 23, 2012 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Biofuels are another silly green initiative that should be shelved. Spend time getting the idiots at the FAA and other obstructionists to approve GAMI's fuel for avgas and let's spend money to develop more efficient jet engines and quit screwing around with swamp grass or whatever. This is the government still flying antique tankers and bombers that are not even allowed if they weren't exempt.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 23, 2012 7:46 PM    Report this comment

What happened to Karen Karen? Did anyone else see that as the goofiest comment ever posted? Have another toke Karen.

Posted by: Keith Butler | May 23, 2012 8:51 PM    Report this comment

Biofuel is the SLOWEST way to make fuel. Jet engines are the FASTEST way to burn fuel. Anyone else see why biofuels are intrinsically wrong for Jet A?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2012 9:00 PM    Report this comment

I'm sorry, Keith, sometimes the wife just wants to be involved and gets very, ah, loose with her words...

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 23, 2012 10:09 PM    Report this comment

Why does this discussion revolve around the idea that only government can find the low-cost way to make biofuels? Has government ever found the low-cost way to do anything?

Posted by: Tim Kern | May 23, 2012 10:58 PM    Report this comment

It was either better for defense or is wasn't. Sounds like it wasn't. We have plenty of domestic oil. They proved they could do it. Done.

It seems to me that government investments almost always fail, or have bad side effects. OTOH, we often get great stuff as a side benefit from government doing its core missions.

However, it seems politicians always want to cut the funding for core responsibilities while looking for places to invest our money in schemes.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 23, 2012 10:58 PM    Report this comment

I promised myself I wouldent get involved in this discussion again, BUT..Remember WW2? Germany made gasoline,diesel,lubricating oil,jet,etc.from coal, today its being produced from natural gas also. The military flew this fuel years ago and it proved itself. Russia, South Africa, and about 30 other country's are currently manufacturing and selling this, Shell Oil just built 2 plants to produce this fuel for the Chinese.

Posted by: Herbert Yuttal | May 24, 2012 2:40 AM    Report this comment

I have 2 short comments on all this noise:

1. It is appropriate for the military to research alternatives to allow operations with no imports of petroleum. I think it is inappropriate for them to pay for large scale use of alternatives until the prices are equivalent.

2. We have an overabundance of natural gas in the USA. We should be looking for ways to use this such as the Pickens Plan. This is a plan from a real energy expert that would actually help our economy and increase energy independence.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | May 24, 2012 5:09 AM    Report this comment

Germany made tank fuel out of coal, and Japan made turpentine avgas out of tree roots--in desperation. It was not because it was superior technology, but because the Allies had bombed the oil fields and sunk their tankers. By the unflinching laws of thermodynamics, all the "synthesizing" steps required for synthetic fuels eats up all the net energy they provide at the end and makes them terribly expensive. The lowest price the U.S. military has paid for any biofuel since 2007 is $26.75 a gallon for Tyson chicken-fat based fuel. In 2009 the Navy paid $427 a gallon for Algae oil. This February the Navy paid $4,454.55 a gallon for biobutanol jet fuel. Somebody's got to say enough. BTW, Germany and Japan lost the war.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 24, 2012 6:12 AM    Report this comment

If government truly wanted to save fuel, they'd adopt a budget process that didn't force organizations to spend ever dollar annually for fear of not getting fully funded the next. Who knows how much JP-8 we'd save. The fuel wasted (and unnecessary hours put on aging aircraft) is appalling.

Posted by: Ken Holston | May 24, 2012 7:29 AM    Report this comment

Hi its me again I'm back :-)

Questions Why does America need to produce biofuels? You have established that USA has more than enough reserves of natural gas and fuels to be totally independent for many years. Could the answer be that there is an overproduction of crops that can be used in the production of biofuels in a bid to increase the cost of foods to the general public. Remember that higher food cost equals higher tax income. There is also an understanding that the additional chemicals into the petroleum products reduce the flame efficiencies thus reducing the power output. Equals more petroleum products have to be bought for a given job. Add to this mix, the biofuels and bingo the petrol companies have just hit the jackpot.

I think Paul hit the nail on the head with the quote “ ...decisions but, beholden as they are to special-interest money, ….” So I would say good luck to changing anything.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 24, 2012 8:16 AM    Report this comment

As for the military side of it -- a couple of years ago NATO agreed that all military road vehicles, including motorbikes, should be diesel powered -- it is happening and is quietly saving the army and others millions in that they do not have to worry about gasoline any more. The jeeps, tanks and even bikes get at least 20% better fuel consumption also. (By the way, some of the cost per gallon is because the US army supply boys and girls do not bother to roll up and use again the fuel storage bladders they have when they move base -- they just leave them to be joyfully scavenged by everyone else.) As for the Navy -- they long ago realized that the turbines used in most warships these days can burn just about anything oily. It is standard practice for oil from chip fryers to be directed to the fuel tanks, through filters, something which reduces complaints about slicks behind their boats. Depending on the market, sunflower or canola oil can be cheaper than the jet fuel they run on officially -- stopping them using this is silly.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | May 24, 2012 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Bruce,

If the US kept its domestic-sourced oil for its own use there wouldn't be an issue. But oil is a global commodity and gets sold on the open market. Initial spending by the military on biofuels is expensive for sure, but the technology trickles down to civil applications with great benefit.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | May 24, 2012 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Just more proof that the GOP will do anything to turn back the clock to the days of horse and buggy...ANYTHING that proposes moving on to something different is opposed...unless they propose it. When you vote you vote for the future or you vote for the past...which one is really best for GA?

Posted by: richard speer | May 24, 2012 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Fischer-Tropsh Gas To Liquids (GTL) is just now becoming commercially viable on a large scale, without direct subsides. Natural gas is the input, distillates (including Jet) is the output.

Its not politically popular because it is not "bio" and is done by Chevron, Shell and the like. It can, however, give us the independence from overseas sources.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 24, 2012 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Will, Now that the tech is proven, is further use by the military worthwhile if it costs extra?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 24, 2012 10:21 AM    Report this comment

While I agree with Paul's point that there is an investment premium needed to get bio-fuel sufficiently in production to be viable, as an active duty member of the US Navy, I applaud the current efforts of the HASC to kill this particular initiative. In the current fiscal environment, the DoD is having to do more with alot less. We can barely maintain the material condition of our ships and aircraft with current budget constraints and due to fuel costs, our training opportunities are slashed to a point where we can barely get ships underway long enough to maintain proficiency. So you can imagine how the operators feel when faced with those sort of limits and then hear the government is trying to make a deal to buy fuel that is advertised to cost 2-4 times more but likely to be MUCH higher as Cliff Claven pointed out. Bio-fuel may indeed be the future. But this is not the time for the government to be funding it.

Posted by: Andrew Hochhaus | May 24, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Will nice try but you and I know that as long as there is oil being produced somewhere in the world America will buy in that oil and when it all dries up that is the time they will take out from their reserves and use it for itself. Why because they can.

The oil companies Caltex, Shell, BP, Esso etc all have in their vaults designs for devices that can take water and be used to power internal combustion engines. My Father in Laws was the Sales Director of Caltex and he was instrumental in the purchase of a device I developed. Needless to say I'm still married to his daughter forty years on.

Biofuels are not needed but somehow there is a groundswell of people trying to introduce this idea. Why?

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 24, 2012 11:12 AM    Report this comment

When bio-fuels become a viable alternative, private industry will develop and sell them. Without government assistance, although probably not without government interference.

Posted by: Duane Hallman | May 24, 2012 12:18 PM    Report this comment

To Cliff Claven.. Germany developed the swept wing and Werner Von Braun developed the successful rocket operation.. soo since they lost the war, you would eliminate these sucessful opeations/inventions from our use! To: Jim Lo Bue..The Govenor of Montana was interviewed by 60minutes on 2.26.2006..where he laid out the program for Fischer Tropez fuel better than I can, if its of interest the program can be viewed on line.

Posted by: Herbert Yuttal | May 24, 2012 2:11 PM    Report this comment

My problem with this issue has nothing to do with chemistry, refining or growing corn.

It seems we (our government) have multiple programs involved the development of "bio" fuels. Why would the Air Force, Navy and probably the Army involved in developing fuel supplies? Last I heard we have a Department of Energy. Shouldn't they be the lead on this?

It doesn't make sense to me to have redundant, parallel programs run by components of the Department of Defense. Just write a spec for what you want and have the DoE do the R&D.

I read a few weeks ago the Federal government has more than several dozen programs for job re-training, without any clear co-ordination between agency to agency or department to department. How’s that doing? We're probably doing the same thing with energy supplies.

I know the importance of "turf" in tax fed bureaucracies, but do we have to do things this way all the time? Is anyone in charge here?

Or, to quote Pink Floyd, “Is there anybody in there?”

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 24, 2012 6:00 PM    Report this comment

Edd, I think if you look at all the beneficial byproducts of our government you will find that they mostly come precisely BECAUSE they are byproducts. So, ask the DoE to develop synth fuel and you have a much less successful program than if the DoD decides they need an alternate available for defending the country and go find one. The DoE will likely waste the money while the DoD may spend too much, but is much more likely to succeed.

OTOH, tell any government types to create a job training program and you will get exactly what you likely intend - activity you can take credit for in spite of no hard results. That's why you tell them to build a bridge and let the vendors train the workers.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 24, 2012 6:24 PM    Report this comment

Eric's description of what some call deflective effort is very good, and it usually can only exist where the bottom line, money, is not the driver. Makes one wonder why a businessman would want to be elected (or think he is qualified) to run the largest non-business organization on earth. The finished pursuit of money has to be replaced with something else, I guess. No, actually, I think I know.

Full disclosure I contract with the VA and so have no problem getting my head around the concept of one department competing with another or not being concerned with what another department is doing if it is not adversly affecting its own. Remember, if money is not the driver then other plays are run to score your department's goal. There is no national goal - even in war - that's but a matrix formed by those who would benefit from having the populace conceive of one. Add politicians, greed, the concept of security, promotions, etc. to the mix and you'll understand no one is in charge, other than the human condition.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 24, 2012 7:44 PM    Report this comment

1. Fischer-Tropsch works. It just costs about twice as much as conventional petroleum fuel and it has a stigma because its made from bad ole black coal. Not necessary because there is plenty of oil.

2. Military is not yet single fuel. There is still diesel and mogas out there. JP-8 has no lubricity and tears up diesel engines and generators (despite claims to the contrary).

3. Biodiesel is a very different chemical cocktail than regular diesel. It's not a hydrocarbon but a fatty-acid methyl ester. Lower energy density, poor low temp flow characteristics, must be significantly reprocessed to become anything close to a drop-in fuel for a diesel engine, let alone anything the FAA would ever approve. You can burn it fine in a boiler or run it in a diesel in 20% or less blends, but never as 100% substitute and never in an aircraft. All the aviation tests in the news are with hydrotreated biofuels which are very expensive (no less than $27 a gallon).

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 24, 2012 11:08 PM    Report this comment

>>no less than $27 a gallon<<

This somewhat misses the point that the Navy says it is making. Or trying to. When the first gasoline was refined, it was $75 a gallon, adjusted for inflation. That rapidly declined to pennies per gallon because of economy of scale. The same thing happened with ethanol, whose rack price, depending on whose numbers you'd like to believe, now rivals gasoline. In any case, it's much cheaper than it was 30 years ago, when the program began. (In that time, corn yields per acre have also doubled, showing that the economics have evolved considerably.)

So if you listen to the podcast with the undersecretary, the Navy's worry is long-term fuel supply security. They are thinking of the Khyber Pass writ on a global scale and want to build a strategic alternative to conventional liquid petroleum as a means of diversified supply. They are not proposing liquid biofuels and a long-term domestic transition. Cost is secondary.

In a peace time economy, where the services don't have to defend anything but their judgements and budgets, it's easy to say you've got plenty of oil to supply your fleet. But what about 20 years hence or the sudden stoppage of imported oil for whatever reason?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2012 8:32 AM    Report this comment

Now like everyone else conversant in energy issues, I don't think crop-based biofuels will play a meaningful role in the next energy transition. But that's not the same as no role and it could very well be that in limited demand segments--the services' need for supply diversity--crop-based HJRs could be a viable source. To completely cut off the inquiry in favor of this week's economics and today's Brent crude price makes no sense to me. It makes more sense to let these companies reach the pilot plant phase and examine what they can do.

The services embarked upon this project some years ago, before the natural gas market turned. It could be that the Congress should direct them to explore, on an equal footing, GTL technology that may be the more realistic option.

The problem is the short-sighted language that prohibits them from buying any fuel more expensive than current fossil fuel. This is classic U.S. energy policy--plan for this moment, but no other.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 25, 2012 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Short sighted language is so common from Congress you have to wonder what benefit the members see in it.

Still, he only problem we will have fueling the fleet this century, or next, will be getting Congress to point the NIMBYs to most places where drilling stopped in the last couple decades. There are very few environmental problems. The smart thing would be a 25 year warning. Just tell everyone that if they want to stop drilling near their home or business 25 years from now, then they better own the rights to those resources themselves.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 25, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment

When EROI is less than 1.0 (negative energy balance), scaling up just digs you a bigger hole. All the R&D in the world won't deliver a perpetual motion machine. Biofuels is perpetual motion in chemistry. Fossil hydrocarbons -> artificial fertilizer -> plant carbohydrates -> multiple expensive and lossy transformations -> bio hydrocarbons. The circle is complete and, by the unflinching laws of thermodynamics, we end up with less than we started with and are fools not to have burned the fossil hydrocarbons as fuel in the first place.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 25, 2012 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Cliff, shouldn't the sun factor in there somewhere?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 25, 2012 9:41 AM    Report this comment

"But what about 20 years hence or the sudden stoppage of imported oil for whatever reason? "

Three words for that. Green. River. Formation.

3 TRILLION barrels of oil, half of which is currently recoverable. Even if it was only 1/3 recoverable that would still equal the rest of the world's proven recoverable reserves combined. And that's just under 3 western states. It doesn't include what is no doubt waiting to be discovered elsewhere on land, plus all the known and suspected sources in the near shore and far off shore fields.

Start developing those resources now, and in 20 years they'll be producing everything we'd need without the need to import for the following 100-200 years.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 25, 2012 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Plants are between 0.1% and 2.0% efficient at converting sunlight into biomass, depending upon which major university studies you read. Most of the energy is used to evaporate water from the leaves and draw more up the xylem to circulate nutrients. Without artifcial fertilizers, switch grass (as one example) takes 30 years to build up a full biome from scratch and can only yield a full-harvest crop every 3-10 years thereafter. Modern high-yield crops get their energy from the hydrogen in the generously appliced ammonium-nitrate fertilizers. That hydrogen is in the form of ammonia (NH3) and comes from natural gas via the Haber-Bosch process. The #2 consumer of US industrial energy after making plastics is making ammonia, and 80% or that ammonia goes into artificial fertilizer. That is the circle of life. Without fossil hydrocarbons (or nuclear power), we are back to pre-industrial agrarian life. Biofuels are just a great way to waste fossil fuel.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 25, 2012 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Diesel engines were designed to run on vegetable oil and are fairly intolerable of today's diesel on account of its low lubricity. The answer most owners of large trucks have come up with is to add used motor oil to their fuel tanks every couple of fill-ups. This, coupled with good preventive maintenance, helps to achieve well over a million miles between overhauls, but at the same time defeats the purpose of low-sulpher highway fuel. Biofuel mixed with diesel at 20% does away with the need to add oil to the tank. Although more expensive, a better way of adding lubricity in my opinion. When you account for the lower TBO for a diesel engine running on todays diesel and multiply that by the number of diesel engines in the Army alone, some sort of blend is cost effective.

Posted by: James Sullivan | May 25, 2012 10:34 AM    Report this comment

On current heavy duty diesel truck engines adding motor oil to the fuel would be a great way to void your warrantee and probably trash your emissions treatment systems that are required.

Most heavy duty diesels are running around a B40 life at 1E6 miles. That means around 40% require a rebuild before that milage target. The best ones, like my employer's engines, are running a B10 life (10% needing a rebuild at 1E6 miles).

Posted by: Andrew Upson | May 25, 2012 11:32 AM    Report this comment

Keep in mind that there are thousands of engines still being used that are pre-emissions. I have several.

Posted by: James Sullivan | May 25, 2012 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Cliff, let's say 1 percent just for spit balling. Is there not enough plants? Those buggers are frigging everywhere. I am an every molecule kinda guy, so I don't want to dismiss anything out of hand.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 25, 2012 12:30 PM    Report this comment

It's always helpful to scope the problem and find the boundaries. If all tillable land in he entire world not needed for food was converted to biofuel production, it would only deliver 1/5 of the current energy demand (recent UKERC meta study of 90 other studies). Water is even more of a limiting factor than land. Biofuels required between 2,000 and 20,000 liters of water per liter of fuel. Gas and diesel are below 5 liters even factoring in all the enhanced oil recovery and refining steps. 1/3 of the world is water poor and even more are living on diminishing water supplies, even as the population is growing toward 9B by 2050. Water competition will kill biofuels eventually, but those with the knowledge and conscience to understand the consequences should be trying to kill it today.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 25, 2012 12:53 PM    Report this comment

Three points: Free-market: As soon as the Navy or anyone else starts making reasonably priced fuel from anything, everyone will want to do it. With plants as your source, the economy of scale disappears once food is so expensive that people start dying off. We currently consume something like 100 times more energy than we could ever harvest from plants. Marijuana: If you absolutely have to have a plant-based fuel, we need to legalize industrial hemp. Nothing much else in the way of plants is as weather-tolerant and yields comparable British thermal units per acre. Thorium: Much safer than Uranium, and we have many tons of it, like a 400-year supply for nuclear electric generation, taking up space in storage. Yes there are technological problems with it, but they are all solvable. The uranium-based lobby will never let it happen.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | May 25, 2012 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Cliff, I see what you mean now. I never subscribed to the idea that bio fuel would replace fossils. IMO, the end game is nuclear with help from wind, solar, geo, etc. by the time we get there, they may other answers, I am not worried about those generations running out of energy. No near doomsdays in my view. Extreme energy scarcity is way behind societal suicide in probability.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 25, 2012 1:19 PM    Report this comment

"....But what about 20 years hence or the sudden stoppage of imported oil for whatever reason?...."

I think we have a "Strategic Reserve" for that?

I don't know what the volume is, but I'm confident it was sized according to projected needs...or??

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 25, 2012 2:02 PM    Report this comment

"....As soon as the Navy or anyone else starts making reasonably priced fuel from anything...."

Hard for me to imagine the Navy, or any other government program could outperform existing private energy companies.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 25, 2012 2:07 PM    Report this comment

To the author I'd like to complete your conclusion. Kill the 6b ethanol program - don't give 3 billion to the DOD as you suggested - give it back to the tax payers. Instead offer a $10 million dollar winner takes all prize to the company that comes up with a real viable biofuel similar to what they did with fuel spill cleanup after Katrina. The government spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades and could not figure out how to improve oil spill clean ups. Private industry figure it out in a year for a microscopic fraction of the cost. After 30 years of trying to find a biofuel and failing lets fire Washington.

Posted by: Thomas Lapointe | May 26, 2012 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Budget shmudget. Track the contributions from the oil industry to the congresscritters who voted against this.

Posted by: Julian Gomez | May 26, 2012 5:05 PM    Report this comment

I would love to see an honest comparison of donations and lobbying from BOTH sides. I don't think anyone benefits from uninformed sniping though.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 26, 2012 5:09 PM    Report this comment

Conventional wisdom is that the federal government favors and subsidizes big oil. In fact, the Feds make money on oil and hugely subsidize its competitors. All fed gov subsidies and tax breaks for crude oil total a microscopic 27 cents per barrel of oil energy delivered, or less than 1/2 cent per gallon. On the other hand, the Feds tax gasoline at 18.5 cents a gallon. This actually nets the Federal government $5-7$ per barrel of crude in revenue--far from a subsidy. Meanwhile the Feds do in fact subsidize biofuels at $10.70 per barrel of energy equivalent, wind energy at $31.33 per barrel, and solar at $59.60 per barrel. Big oil would love for all the subsidies and tax breaks to stop and to level the playing field on taxes for all forms of energy. (source: 1. Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010. Energy Information Agency, July 2011. http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/; 2. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Estimated U.S Energy Use in 2010: ~98.0 Quads.” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 2011. https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/energy/energy_archive/energy_flow_2010/LLNLUSEnergy2010.png. ).

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 26, 2012 8:00 PM    Report this comment

@ Thomas - right with you on the design competition, although the prize would need to be much bigger.

In the same way that we use a mix of fuels now, there'll be a mix in the future.

1. Nuclear - in lieu of the oft-discussed fusion, better, cleaner and safer forms of fission will be used like the thorium cycle, which actually used spent nuclear fuel as its fuel, rendering it much safer! Basic fission has always had a safety question mark but the Fukushima furore will die down. Nuclear will then be the basis of power sources, like powering the synthesis of fuels for mobile applications.

2. Hydrogen - my prediction is that this will be big. Most IC engines can be modified to run on it, and new optimized ones run better. The storage problem is being solved (google it) and as photovoltaics improve in efficiency and price, our roofs will all be covered in them and we'll be splitting water and storing the hydrogen to run our houses, cars and whatever. It will allow solar, wind etc to get closer to "base-load" power.

3. Synthetic/Bio Fuels. They might see me out but ultimately they're only interim measures so that existing engines can see out their planned service lives. They may persist longer in the military and for shipping etc.

4. Electricity. The storage is improving. I expect to see battery- and fuel-cell-powered transport to become increasingly common.

Posted by: john hogan | May 27, 2012 7:46 AM    Report this comment

3. If bio fuel is only for engines in use today then we an drop it right now.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 27, 2012 8:55 AM    Report this comment

I've read Paul's essay and subsequent posts as well as many of the others. All thoughtful. My sense and experience indicates that Paul is on the right track. Algal based potential fuels have been an interest of mine for a couple years, and I think there's abundant potential there. I do not believe in solar or ethanal. But algae just might work. 40% of the plant's cell weight is lipid oil. Yes, it's expensive now, but with more research and production scale, that will change a lot, as Paul has pointed out. It won't be grown in ponds, but in specialized generators. There are innovative thoughts as to how to do that. The process requires heat. Experiments are underway to capture the waste heat flowing out of power plants and sewage plants. Other methods include constructing an array of 24-36 inch thick translucent panels filled with circulating algal soup stood up vertically so solar rays will penetrate both sides, thus speeding growth. Exxon among others is deep into these ideas. I'm a political conservative and believer in oil and gas development. I strongly believe that a combination of hydrocarbon and algal based fuels can make us energy independent. We are indeed short-sighted to hinder further devlopment of this important fuel source.

Posted by: Ed Livermore | May 28, 2012 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Well lets look at history.. 1. Bio.. which of the great lakes would you assign to grow enough algie to supply all the need of both domestic and military use? 2.Ethanol..DROUGHT..every seven years or so. 3. Natural gas .abundant and can be converted to useable fuel not requiring any adaptation of all the engines in use today. 4, Coal.enought to last 250 years when converted to useable fuel in the same way natural gas is ie: Fischer/Tropez. 5. cost.. When the U.S government was running test plants in Missiouri during the 1948/52 time period the cost of a gal. of 80 octane was 1.5 cents a gal. as reported by the Department Of Mines...(they operated the plants). Of course any time syn fuel was about to become a realized item the gas co.lobies took over and the program was cancled. All other natural items to manufacture fuel are all boondogles ,in existance only to receive Gov.subsidies. once again where government dollars are available there will always be someone standing by with their hand out for the subsidies, knowing they couldent produce the finished product but they will live on the dollars as long as they can!

Posted by: Herbert Yuttal | May 28, 2012 2:24 PM    Report this comment

Hi Herbert: I understand your point of view and, apparently like you, am a strong proponent of oil and gas development. Buuuttt, there is also a long list of valuable products today that the basic research leading to their development was led by government dollars. My contention is that fuel from algae can be another. You're probably right about the F/T process; I know little about its cost but would find it interesting also. Google "Algae fuel" and you'll have enough reading to last a week or more! As an augmentation to oil & gas, it could be very important. Remember that algae will grow in almost any type of water: salt, fresh, fetig, sewer, you name it. One company pioneering in the field projects that if we devoted an area equal to 10% of the state of New Mexico, given some type of water resource, that it could provide most of the liquid fuel needs of the country. I think that's a bit over the top, but we already devote such space to other projects such as the railroad rights of way granted in the 19th century and the vast amounts of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and now other states such as the Dakotas to oil, gas and wind development.

Posted by: Ed Livermore | May 28, 2012 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Algae (actually micro-algae cyanobacteria) is a no-go as well. There are hosts of reasons from water (even saline algae require huge amounts of fresh water for cooling and evaporation make-up), to nutrients (need huge amounts of ammonia/urea and Co2 that are impractical to provide at scale even from municipal and industrial waste sources). But the most damaging fact is that energy balance is hugely negative. A UT-Austin study found that just the energy to circulate the water in the ponds is 7 times greater than is ultimately provided in the biodiesel product. UVA found that the only way to have a chance to break even on energy was to forget about extracting the oil from each tiny cell, but to just sun-dry the algae en mass and shovel it directly into a furnace in place of wood or coal. Argonne National Laboratory found that it takes 2.6 times the fossil fuel energy to produce a gallon of algae biodiesel as it does a gallon of regular petroleum diesel. Solazyme, the company that the Navy has been buying oil from at $61 to $427 a gallon, feeds their algae sugar, which is direct competition with food. You can't trust the "PC School of Technology" or the "University of Hollywood" or "Encyclopedia Mainstream Media" on these issues. The truth is out there in the science journals if you want it.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 29, 2012 1:22 AM    Report this comment

Cliff, Fischer-Tropsch GTL from natural gas, not coal, is the current technology. Cost is equivalent to current crude-derived distillates, or "Big Oil" wouldnt be building the plants.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 29, 2012 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Sasol is pioneer in both. Using NG as feedstock has been about twice the cost of coal (2009 data). U.S. military paid $3.41-$3.90 a gallon for coal FT aviation kerosene, and $7.00 a gallon for NG diesel. Carbon capture will make FT more expensive, but still much more economically competitive than biofuels, and it has a positive energy balance. However, the coming oil glut will likely kill FT again before it gets too far in the U.S.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 29, 2012 10:53 AM    Report this comment

The strongest comments above provide documented proof that bio-fuels for transportation are not even close to making either economic or environmental sense. Even making the Navy "drive up the volume" of biofuels wouldn't make the fuels competitive.

It might make sense to continue research-scale studies on various synthesis processes, but production-scale investments are obviously premature and unacceptably expensive. BTW, the claim above that ethanol is approaching cost/BTU parity with gasoline is just plain wrong.

One comment above is absolutely right that most biomass makes best sense if we just burn it in boilers and furnaces, rather than using more energy than it's worth to turn it into a liquid.

But the most relevant point -- barely stated above -- is that the USA has an extraordinary surplus of easily available fossil fuels. We could be independent of foreign oil for at least a century. The real problem is that the government is actively suppressing and demonizing the fossil fuel industry while wasting billions on productionizing inefficient, costly, and completely unneeded biofuels.

Also, biofuels for transportation provide no strategic advantage in wartime. Biofuel plants and delivery logistics are just as vulnerable as the fossil fuel infrastructure. In any case, the Navy, in an emergency, would have a much easier time finding plain old bunker fuel at ports around the world than some specialized biofuel.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | May 30, 2012 2:23 AM    Report this comment

Anyone have a clue why the alphabets want the fuel program to continue?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 30, 2012 2:43 AM    Report this comment

My approach is to continue research in biofuels and maybe bring the most promising process to scale. But I wholeheartedly agree with this statement from your post: "...the USA has an extraordinary surplus of easily available fossil fuels. We could be independent of foreign oil for at least a century. The real problem is that the government is actively suppressing and demonizing the fossil fuel industry..."

You are quite right in this view, and I support it fully. If the current occupant is re-elected, his abusive policies will only become worse.

Posted by: Ed Livermore | May 30, 2012 7:49 AM    Report this comment

As a first time contributor to the AVWEB blog discussion, I just want to thank you all for the civility and thoughtfulness of the conversation. It is refreshing not to read or suffer personal attacks and to debate with people who are really thinking things over for themselves rather than parroting talking points from some politically compromised opinion leader. Cheers.

Posted by: Cliff Claven | May 31, 2012 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Several years ago I checked Yale & Harvard websites and then spoke to several people in the agricultural field; there is not enough arable land available in the U S of A to grow enough fuel corn to replace 5% of the daily fuel requirements ten years from now. It is just more money in the pockets of Al Gore (owns lots of ethanol production) and a dead end. Making Bio-fuels or oil that can be refined from bacteria is a much more likely to succeed idea, but still very expensive. As per Palin, "drill, baby, drill" is much more sensible for the next fifty years

Posted by: Walter Zirbes | June 7, 2012 4:47 PM    Report this comment

@ S Lanchester - the US government can't take all the credit/blame for that - around the world the mood is shifting. Australia is the biggest emitter (per capita) and coal exporter and we're about to commence taxing CO2 as pollution. Ultimately, I predict that most of the fossil fuels will stay in the ground, where ever they are. My guess is that it will take 2 generations to get there. Maybe sooner if things get bad. In the mean time with the global economic crisis barely started IMO, very little is going to happen. If anything fossil fuel use needs to rapidly accelerate to power the economic development necessary to pay for the baby-boomers' retirements.

Aviation types, like performance-car types, with the need to use a fair bit of jurassic juice, seem more anti- climate change than the average. It shouldn't be that way though - the alternatives will end up being cheaper and more reliable. At the moment, oil price fluctuations are like some foreign reserve bank setting our interest rates... not good. Plus, every pilot gets it drilled into them to focus on what is right rather than who is right. Yet so many get stuck in the rut of polarised political debate and ignore the experts. It's kind of nuts. Talk in the cockpit is often of a higher, funnier and more informed standard than average yet start talking about climate change and the eyes seem to roll back ...

Posted by: john hogan | June 7, 2012 6:38 PM    Report this comment

All the experts I know disagree with you on the cost of alternatives for at least a couple generations. It's not politics, it's math and science rather than pseudo scienctific politics.

Posted by: Eric Warren | June 7, 2012 7:00 PM    Report this comment

Eric I think that time frame is correct, although I think it *is* influenced by politics WRT how much political will there is to push research etc. I wish things were moving more quickly but from a practical point of view, we do need to get full value out of existing infrastructure and systems. Cheers John

Posted by: john hogan | June 8, 2012 3:42 AM    Report this comment

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