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By Robert Rapier on Oct 30, 2010 with 35 responses

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part III

This is the concluding installment of my recent interview with Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). Part I discussed the overall goals of the Navy’s biofuel efforts, and in Part II we covered why coal-to-liquids (CTL) is presently off-limits, and why GTL may be as well. Part III picks up with the human cost of moving fuel into the theater of operations.

The editor of Consumer Energy Report, Sam Avro, joined me in this interview and our questions below will be denoted as “RR” or “SA”. Mr. Hicks’ responses are “TH”.

RR: I saw a recent story that once fuel actually makes it to the theater of operations, it can cost $400 per gallon when all the costs are added up. So are you putting any emphasis on producing the fuel locally? For instance, are you funding efforts that could enable you to produce fuel onsite in Afghanistan?

A U.S. Army fuel convoy in Ninawa province, Iraq. (Credit: USMC - Lance Cpl. Kelly R. Chase)

TH: Yes, I can point you to several efforts. In terms of working with say the Afghan population, and looking to them to create alternative fuels; that’s something that the Department of Defense and my understanding is maybe some other federal agencies are working on to create and stimulate those opportunities. And that’s really more their role to do that. What we are looking to do is to make our expeditionary units more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels, and we are doing that in a number of ways.

One great example of us reducing our fuel tether, if you will, is our experimental forward operating base. This is something that in March the Marine Corps created in Quantico, Virginia – at the Marine Corps Base Quantico; an experimental or mock forward operating base. And the purpose of that was to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies, renewable energy technologies so that they could reduce the amount of fossil fuels that they use in theater.

And just to give you a sense – and this is based on Army study – but for every 24 fuel convoys that we bring into the theater, we have one casualty. So that’s one soldier, one marine, killed or wounded who is not otherwise fighting the fight or engaged with the local population to build a nation. That’s a big part of what is driving this as well, that there is a human cost to this; a big price to pay and we are very concerned about that. So with that forward operating base, they identified a number of technologies that seem to have a lot of promise, and they further tested those technologies at a war-gaming exercise to see if they could hold up to the rigors of the battlefield.

From there, they took the best ones out of that exercise and trained a Marine Corps brigade that was deployed just over six months after it was initially tested. So those technologies are in theater today, and just six months ago they were just being tested. And that’s all to the point of reducing our dependence on our generator sets which are all using petroleum products, and being able to lighten the load and be more independent; to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

SA: When you talk about technology, are you talking about running their energy systems off of solar or things like that? Can you expound upon that?

TH: Yes, that’s a part of it. As well as things like LED lighting in the tents; having shades that serve two purposes; not only making the tents cooler, but they also have PV embedded in them to generate power. Those are a couple of examples. There are some others where we are putting out PV-generated refrigerators; so that all of the meals-ready-to-eat are kept at the appropriate temperature so they don’t spoil so the marines have food to eat when they are in theater. And all of those things would otherwise be tied to a generator that uses petroleum. Each barrel and each gallon we can take out of theater is one more we don’t have to bring in and stretches out the number of fuel convoys we ultimately need.

SA: Are you in a dedicated department where you deal with the Navy’s energy issues? Do you have a staff working under you? Can you explain the organizational structure?

TH: So, my office works under the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for what’s now Energy, Installations, and Environment. In the past it was Assistant Secretary for Installations and the Environment, but now it’s Energy, Installations, and Environment. And that energy piece is not just related to installations, it covers the entire gamut of our energy use, from our tactical, expeditionary to our facilities and our commercial vehicle fleet; our non-tactical vehicle fleet.

In terms of staffing, I have a Director of Operational Energy, who really deals with all the tactical issues; I have a Director of Shore Energy, and I have another gentleman who is really my Chief of Staff and also deals with special projects that we have on energy issues. Below that we have some additional support; some more junior level support for each of those individuals as well. So that’s how we are currently staffed up.

SA: Is the staff comprised of civilians, or does it include naval officers and enlisted personnel too?

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway tours an experimental, self-sustaining forward operating base demonstrated aboard MCB Quantico in March of this year. (Credit: USMC - Cpl. Meloney R. Moses)

TH: My office is entirely civilian, but there is a Marine Corps and Navy uniformed analog to what the Secretary does. So, we have a Secretary of the Navy, but you also have a Commandant of the Marine Corps and a Chief of Naval Operations. So those two uniformed folks work for the secretary. So what we have is the Secretary, we have a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, there is the Naval Energy Coordination Office, and they head up all the Navy tactical issues. We also have the Marine Corp Expeditionary Energy Office and they head up all of their tactical issues and technical energy issues. We also have installations on both the Navy and Marine Corps, and those are headed up by uniformed side as well. So, kind of think of it as a matrix; there is shore and tactical; Marine Corps and Navy. In each one of those quadrants, there is a uniformed person in the lead, and the Secretary as my role is really to coordinate with all of them, and to work with them in developing policy, issuing policy guidance, tracking progress, establishing strategies, and establishing budgets.

RR: How proactive is your department on these initiatives? Are you out knocking on doors if you see a news story, or are you waiting for companies to come to you in general?

TH: We are doing a little bit of both. We do have a lot of companies coming to us with a whole variety of possibilities; some of which I have never heard of but that are interesting nonetheless. But we are also very active. Prior to my arrival in February, a number of folks from the Assistant Secretary’s office went out to Silicon Valley to really engage with venture capital firms to understand what they are looking at in terms of energy use; what they think are going to be the big winners and where are they putting their money; but also to communicate our goals as well, so they understood where we are going.

Since coming on-board in March, I have gone up to Boston to undertake a similar effort; to meet with venture capital firms out of the Boston area to go through the same process of understanding what they are working on; what technologies and then give them a sense of what our general interest was. That’s one area. We are also looking for small green tech, clean tech companies; so we have talked to a number of them and one of the things we have done recently – and the Secretary announced this last week – is we have released off of our acquisitions website a tool called Green Biz Opps and what this does is really screens through all of the innumerable acquisition opportunities that are on Fed Biz Opps and screens them down to just Navy, energy, and green; and sustainable type of acquisitions. So we list that up on our website and will be updating it on a weekly basis so that companies can come to us; small ones that might not otherwise have the resources; gives them the opportunity to see what kind of opportunities the Navy has. We are also engaged with a number of federal agencies; USDA, DOE, and most recently with the Small Business Administration where we are going to partner together to see how we can get more of these opportunities to these small, green tech, clean tech companies.

Beyond that, we have many of our traditional roads; Navy avenues, whether it is our SBIR program or our STTR program where we can go and get some small businesses that are focused on technologies that are of interest to the Navy. So those continue as well.

RR: When you are talking about opportunities and acquisitions; acquisitions by who? Let’s say you see a promising company, and it passes through your filter, you would acquire that company?

TH: No. The acquisitions are just the opportunities; or procurements; maybe that’s a better way to say it. Procurement opportunities that they have. We don’t acquire other companies.

RR: I wouldn’t have thought so.

TH: These are opportunities that they have, that the Navy is offering them a chance to respond to.

RR: I think that covers all of the questions I have. Will you be available for followups?

TH: Sure. And I would just close by saying that energy security is really critical to our mission’s success. As we look at energy efficiency, we look at that as increasing our mission effectiveness. As we have talked a lot about today, alternative fuels really give the Navy a chance to divest a bit from petroleum to provide some increased insulation from a pretty volatile petroleum market. So that’s a pretty big part of why we are going about this. I just appreciate your time.

(Links to: Part I, Part II, Part III)

  1. By Wendell Mercantile on October 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies

    A “bunch?” He certainly never reveals exactly what is in that bunch does he? He talks about using LED bulbs in the tents, and using PV panels to pick up some of the load that fuel-run generators would have to carry, but that hardly constitutes a “bunch,” and certainly won’t insulate the Navy from the volatile petroleum market.

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  2. By navin-r-johnson on October 30, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I hope they are looking at external combustion engines.  The ability to burn any fuel would be a huge military advantage.  This seems like an obvious choice.

    Also, I’ve been meaning to ask Robert about the Mcgyan process, which converts triglycerides and free fatty acids (with methanol) to biodiesel in a continuous process that seems to have some advantages over the traditional batch process.  I recently met Dr. Gyberg (one of the inventors) and found his presentation to be very interesting.  At the lab bench scale they are using traditional HPLC equipment (my area of expertise) and they can convert a few gallons a day.  Of course they are demonstrating at larger scales.  I can imagine some scenarios where a military use of this technology make sense (if it works as advertised).

    This Mcgyan process might also scale in a way that makes sense for agricultural use, but this post is about military.

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  3. By paul-n on October 31, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Wendell, I agree, he was very short on specifics.  Solar PV awnings for tents, LED lights, solar refrigerators are all things you can buy off the shelf from outdoor/alternative energy stores today – and I’m sure the military hasn’t just discovered them, either.

     

    The problem for fuel in the field, is what is your “feedstock”  If it is any kind of biomass, you need to devote human resources to collecting it, which, assuming the biomass is there, is fine, at first, but used in any scale, you will exhaust your supply fairly quickly.  Having to send out armed groups in Afghanistan to collect firweood is likely to have a much higher casualty rate for the fuel obtained than the one in 24 for the supply convoys.

    However, the prudent us of on site wind and solar (or even micro hydro, in suitable geography) would make sense.  The equipment is delivered once, and then produces energy with little further manpower requirements.  The equipment can be located in/near the camp/base where it is (more) secure.  

    Solar and wind are not cost competitive with grid power, but they are with diesel generators, and certainly would be compared to diesel supplied to the front in Afghanistan.

    I’m sure they can (and are) making good efforts to minimise the fuel requirements for operating the camp/base, but for military vehicles, unless you go to a external combustion engine (steam) or solid fuel gasifiers, I just can;t see that on site production of liquid fuels is practical, at any scale.  It may be if the base in the middle of corn or soybean fields, but that is unlikely, and unlikely to be popular with the locals that grow them.

    As long as they are running vehicles other than within the  base, I don’t see that they have any realistic alternatives to imported fuel.

    If they do, then Deputy Secretary Hicks was making very sure to say nothing about it.

     

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  4. By perry on October 31, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Paul N said:

    The problem for fuel in the field, is what is your “feedstock”  If it is any kind of biomass, you need to devote human resources to collecting it, which, assuming the biomass is there, is fine, at first, but used in any scale, you will exhaust your supply fairly quickly.  


     

    Nobody thinks outside the box better than these military guys. They’ll probably come up with dozens of ways to skin this cat. In Afghanistan, it may mean paying farmers more for camelina than they can get for opium. Contractors could deliver camelina to bases for X amount per ton. Other contractors could convert it to fuel for X amount per gallon. I’m pretty sure they could come in well below the $400 per gallon “delivered” price mentioned in the article, and put fewer of our soldiers at risk in the process.

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  5. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    The problem for fuel in the field, is what is your “feedstock” If it is any kind of biomass, you need to devote human resources to collecting it, which, assuming the biomass is there, is fine, at first, but used in any scale, you will exhaust your supply fairly quickly.

    I agree Paul. The logistics of collecting biomass in combat from which to make liquid fuel would be daunting in fertile areas such as Georgia, Louisiana, (even Mississippi Rufus) or the Midwest Corn Belt, let alone in arid environments such as Afghanistan or Iraq.

    NATO forces in Afghanistan have trouble now going outside the wire on patrols; think what it would be like if they had to provide protection and security for biomass gathering parties that had to go out within a 30-40 mile radius of a combat base and then haul that biomass on local roads. Obviously using helicopters to do that work would be counter-productive.

    There is even a historical precedent for the difficulties of gathering biomass to supply the energy needs of a combat outpost: The Fetterman disaster of December 1866 along the Bozeman Trail in what was to become Wyoming.

    Captain William Fetterman was in charge of a detachment of 80 soldiers and civilians tasked with going outside Fort Phil Kearney to gather firewood to keep the fort warm through the approaching winter.

    Only three miles from the fort, Fetterman’s party was ambushed by over 1,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors who wiped out Fetterman’s entire command.

    Wouldn’t the Taliban and el Quada just love to ambush biomass gathering parties ranging for miles around combat bases in Afghanistan? We would have to use all our resources just to protect the biomass gathering parties.

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  6. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    In Afghanistan, it may mean paying farmers more for camelina than they can get for opium.

     

    Right Perry.  Take a guess at the life span of a farmer in rural Afghanistan when the Taliban discover he is supplying NATO forces with biomass.

    Of course, we could protect him, but think of all the combat troops it would take to protect all of the farmers supplying biomass.  We would end up spending all of our combat power just to protect the biomass suppliers and the roads they would have to use to transport that biomass.

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  7. By savro on October 31, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies

    A “bunch?” He certainly never reveals exactly what is in that bunch does he? He talks about using LED bulbs in the tents, and using PV panels to pick up some of the load that fuel-run generators would have to carry, but that hardly constitutes a “bunch,” and certainly won’t insulate the Navy from the volatile petroleum market.


     

    Wendell, I think you’re being a little too harsh here. The “green” forward operating bases are very important IMO. I’m very much in agreement with Mr. Hicks that “each barrel and each gallon we can take out of theater is one more we don’t have to bring in and stretches out the number of fuel convoys we ultimately need.”

    Since the forward operating bases are heavily dependent on petroleum to run their generators, it stands to reason that the combination of solar power and energy conservation is a very positive move. I did not get into this with the Secretary, but the transport costs (both in terms of manpower costs and casualties) are probably highest the further the supply lines travel from the main bases.

    However, I agree with you that the “green” forward operating bases –while they can really help to minimize fuel transport casualties– do not “insulate” the Navy (and the military in general) from the volatile petroleum market. But that’s not the point of the “green” forward operating bases; the goal there is to reduce the amount of fuel convoys that need to leave the main bases in order to supply the smaller bases usually located in less secure areas.

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  8. By Rufus on October 31, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    What a load of horsehockey. PC nonsense abounds. They’re over there guarding the poppy fields for the Afghani Drug Lords, wondering “out loud” Oh, Whatever could we use for feedstock?

    POPPYCOCK. Or, better yet, Poppy Seeds. 100 gal/acre. Look at the hovels those farmers are living in. They’re probably not getting $400.00 For an Acre of poppies. Any little old motor pool, or supply company could put together the equipment to turn those poppies into biodiesel.

    One word: HALLIBURTON!

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  9. By savro on October 31, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Here’s a photo I came across of a train-like supply column in rural Afghanistan. It gives a sense of just how vulnerable these supply column are; they seem like mile-long sitting ducks.

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  10. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    it stands to reason that the combination of solar power and energy conservation is a very positive move.

    Samuel,

    Positive? Yes. A bunch, as in TH’s words, “to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies.” No.

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  11. By savro on October 31, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    it stands to reason that the combination of solar power and energy conservation is a very positive move.

    Samuel,

    Positive? Yes. A bunch, as in TH’s words, “to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies.” No.

     

    Wendell, looking at the transcripts, it seems like Mr. Hicks may have been correcting his statement by changing it to “renewable energy technologies” instead of “alternative fuel technologies.” His statement in full reads: “And the purpose of that was to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies, renewable energy technologies so that they could reduce the amount of fossil fuels that they use in theater.”

    If you look carefully at the context of that entire paragraph (and the followup Q&A), he seems to be focusing on areas that the Navy/Marines can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels by conserving energy and generating their own electricity at the same time. Making forward units less dependent on transports to supply their energy is a sound strategy in reaching their goal of reducing energy transports by as much as possible. It’s still only a small step in the right direction, considering how much liquid fuel is still needed for their Hummers, tanks and assorted armored vehicles. But every gallon saved is one less gallon that needs to be transported.

    I will go back to the tapes (as soon as the first batch of NFL games are over Cool) to see if indeed that’s the case.

    Edit: After reviewing that part of the interview it’s inconclusive if he meant to change from “fuel” to “energy” or if he meant both. But I think the point he was making was as I explained above.

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  12. By Rufus on October 31, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    We could have been running those humvees, and trucks on poppy seed oil for the last 5 years, and the Generals know it. That they haven’t done it is telling.

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  13. By paul-n on October 31, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I don;t know if running the engines on poppy seed oil is that good an idea – they may get addicted to it!

    Seriously though, they would need to take over thousands of acres of farmland, to feed their war machines.  The locals will be really happy about being require to sell all their product to the occupiers – what if they decide to grow, say, food, for themselves, instead?  Where does that leave the military then.

    If you use all the local resources, you will be seen as plundering – leave the local resources to the locals.  if they want to sell to the military then fine, but when you require them to, it’s a different story.

    Sam’s pictures shows how vulnerable the convoys are, but also,  how much of anything are you going to grow in that area?

    I am sure the military is doing anything they can to reduce their stationary fuel consumption, but for vehicles there are few options, and none of them good.

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  14. By Rufus on October 31, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Paul, the Country is the size of TEXAS. Probably in the range of 400 MILLION Acres.

    Would the locals love to sell their poppies to us for twice what the Taliban will pay? We don’t know; the Military never gave them the chance. This isn’t being done because the PRIME CONTRACTOR doesn’t want it being done. Don’t insult our intelligence.

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  15. By paul-n on October 31, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Rufus, it doesn’t matter how much land you have, it is how much water you have to grow things, and they have not a lot.  Yes there are some plants that can grow slowly in arid environments and produce useable oils but your yields per acre are awful.  And, for the Taliban, if those fields are the fuel supply, it is very easy to set fire to them just before harvest.

     

    As for the poppies, there is much more to that whole issue than just using them for fuel.  The government could have closed down the entire poppy industry, but they choose not to, for reasons we don’t know.

    And as for the prime contractor, presumably the military tells them what to do, not the other way around.  If there is an alternate fuel source, and Halliburton doesn’t want to play ball, then hopefully the military will hire a contractor that will.  If Halliburton is dictating what does and doesn’t get done in Afghanistan, then the military has much bigger problems than their alternate fuel sources.  

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  16. By Rufus on October 31, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Well, don’t worry, Bubba, Halliburton gives the money to the people that use our money to give those generals their wars. Halliburton is powerful.

    I looked it up: 251,000 sq. miles. About 161 Million Acres. They have quite a bit of water. We went over there decades, ago, and built the irrigation canals that are, at present, watering the poppies. They also raise wheat, and corn, and marijuana. All the staples.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Here’s a photo I came across of a train-like supply column in rural Afghanistan.

    Hmmm…not a lot of biomass there to get the local farmers* to bring into a combat base or supply depot in order for us to make fuel locally, is there?

    I suspect that in most of Afghanistan, local villagers and rural farmers more than have their hands full just getting enough biomass for themselves to burn for cooking and to keep their homes warm. In most arid parts of the world, locals have to range for miles each day, just to get their own meager supplies of firewood and charcoal.
    _______
    * Assuming we could protect them and their families from the Taliban, if those farmers decided to harvest biomass and sell it to us.

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  18. By Rufus on October 31, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Not “biomass;” Poppies. They’ve been growing, selling, and transporting poppies, there, for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.

    We could pay the farmers twice what the Drug Lords are paying, and still produce Biodiesel for, probably, $5.00/gal (vs. $400.00/gal.)

    Halliburton (which moved it’s headquarters to the Middle East so it wouldn’t even have to pretend to pay taxes in America any longer) is making Billions of Dollars off of the way things are now. They LOVE you and me paying $400.00/gal (to them) for diesel fuel – and, no insult to the interviewee, but they have One Million Times the clout he, or his dept ever will.

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  19. By paul-n on November 1, 2010 at 1:10 am

    Sounds like the solution here is for the military to then decide to employ and America contractor, since Halliburton is clearly no longer one.

    no insult to the interviewee, but they have One Million Times the clout he, or his dept ever will.

    I do find this hard to believe, that Uncle Sam would put corporate interests ahead of the country, and the military.  That would be like having the taxpayer funded military being used to guard oil companies (for profit) overseas operations.  Fortunately, that would never happen.

    How about Poet or Fiberight  offering to make an onsite cellulosic ethanol system, using the poppy stalks, or anything else, for $100/gal?

    Sounds like a good deal for everyone, except Halliburton, but who cares about them?

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  20. By perry on November 1, 2010 at 1:25 am

    The numbers have already been crunched on poppy seed biofuel for Afganistan. 45 million gallons per year, using land already in production for opium.  It wouldn’t exactly be re-inventing the wheel.

     

     

    http://snrecmitigation.wordpre…..ghanistan/

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  21. By Rufus on November 1, 2010 at 2:53 am

    From Perry’s link:

    That same product, if pressed for its oil instead of dried, would yield 978 kg oil and would need to clear an oil farm-gate price of $3.43 per kg or $1.03 per gallon to be competitive with dry opium market prices.

    So, tell me, why are we locking up underclass Americans for selling heroin, etc, while we’re paying $120 Billion/Yr for our Young American Troops to “Guard” the poppy fields, and paying $400.00/Gal for diesel for their trucks, humvees, and tanks when we could be “Doubling” the Farmers’ incomes by buying the poppy crop for $2.00/gal and powering their vehicles with That?

    Because We’re The. Stupidest. People. On. Earth.

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  22. By Rufus on November 1, 2010 at 3:04 am

    I should have caught this before I copied, but I’m not used to working in kilograms. I have to question the the $1.03/gal. Seems like it would be higher than that. It doesn’t matter though. Whether it’s $1.00, or $10.00 it pales in comparison to $400.00.

    Let’s face it; our Lords and Masters are “owned.” And, they’re Not owned by us.

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  23. By OD on November 1, 2010 at 5:19 am

    It seems odd to me, if i’m understanding, that all the military branches are working seperately on the liquid fuels problem. Wouldn’t better results be achieved(and costs cut) by working together? There was also the DOE’s announcement over the summer of creating an Energy Innovation Hub. I wonder how much duplicate research is being conducted(and funds possibly wasted)??

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  24. By paul-n on November 1, 2010 at 7:26 am

    45 million gallons per year, using land already in production for opium.  It wouldn’t exactly be re-inventing the wheel.

    That is the equivalent of 2740 barrels of oil per day, just over half the nation’s current consumption, and one fifth of the pre-Taliban consumption (link).

     

    Perhaps the more important question here is why the military is paying Halliburton $400/gal when clearly there is already oil being used, and available, in Afghanistan, and they could get it from local suppliers – be it crude sourced, or biofuel.

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  25. By Mike on November 1, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Paul and Perry – I just did some basic checking and the stats indicate that Marine Corps oil consumption in Afghanistan stands at around 19,000 barrels a day. That’s just the Corps, let alone infantry, air force and logistics. That means that, even going on the Corps figure, 2740 barrels a day is 15% of the daily military oil consumption. A difference, sure, but not in any way significant enough to justify the logistical problems of acquiring fuel from Afghan sources and still having a Plan B in place if there (inevitably) is a disruption. It’s a sobering thought that 15% of Marine Corps oil consumption is 50% of the national oil consumption of the country they’re in.

    And Paul:

    I do find this hard to believe, that Uncle Sam would put corporate interests ahead of the country, and the military. That would be like having the taxpayer funded military being used to guard oil companies (for profit) overseas operations. Fortunately, that would never happen.

    Really? Can I visit your planet sometime? It sounds like a nice place.

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  26. By Wendell Mercantile on November 1, 2010 at 5:56 am

    clearly there is already oil being used, and available, in Afghanistan, and they could get it from local suppliers – be it crude sourced, or biofuel.

    Paul,

    Don’t forget that the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the tribal warlords also get a vote in whether we use oil and biomass from local suppliers

    The life expectancy of a local Afghan farmer growing and selling biomass to NATO forces would be a matter of days.

    Perhaps we could protect them, but that would take even more troops.

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  27. By perry on November 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    The life expectancy of a local Afghan farmer growing and selling biomass to NATO forces would be a matter of days.


     

    There are lots of reasons to do nothing, but that won’t work much longer Wendell. Those tanks are heavy. We can’t just tell our troops to push them into battle when fuel supplies become unavailable.

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  28. By Wendell Mercantile on November 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Perry~

    Tanks don’t roll without fuel, but you don’t get fuel from locals if that opens them up to retribution from the enemy.

    General Patton had the same problem in WW II moving across France. The solution then was something called the Red Ball Express which moved fuel and other ammo in an unbroken chain of supply trucks from the port at Cherbourg to Patton’s lead elements.

    During the Battle of the Bulge, Kampfgruppe Peiper’s spearhead ran out of fuel before crossing the Amblève River and the German offensive stalled.

    In neither case did Patton or Peiper have the time or opportunity to get fuel from the local population. There is no fuel available in a war-ravaged countryside, and those that don’t have the logistics chain to supply their own don’t win.

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  29. By perry on November 2, 2010 at 3:10 am

    I think a bidding war for those poppies would be good way to put the Taliban out of business. They’re just narco-terrorists. No different from FARC. If the Taliban try to force farmers to take less money for their crops, they hurt their own political base. NATO forces wouldn’t necessarily do the buying. We could subsidise private efforts, just like we do at home. It might even spawn a new industry for the Afghans.

    The Pashtuns have been ungovernable for centuries. They’re a bunch of thieves, smugglers, and drug dealers. They hate authority, because it crimps their lawless lifestyles. But, they do like money. You can bet those farmers will sell their crops to the highest bidder.

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  30. By savro on November 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    I’m with Wendell here.

    You have to figure that the closer these fuel shipments get to the war zone the higher the costs rise. I’d assume that most of the cost that makes up the $400/bbl calculation is for the costs of protecting, and the damages afflicted to the supply convoys in (or very close to) the war zone.

    If the above is correct, then I don’t see how warzone grown biofuels will help bring down the costs for the military. You’ll have to add the security and damage costs for the farmers, their fields and the refineries to the already astronomical costs of transporting the fuel by convoy.

    With oil hovering at $80/bbl, if it costs $320/bbl to transport it then it makes no difference if the liquid fuel being transported is crude oil- or biofuel-based. And then you have the added security and manpower costs of protecting the farmers, fields and refineries.

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  31. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    You can bet those farmers will sell their crops to the highest bidder.

    Perry~

    Not until NATO forces can guarantee their security. But once we are able to do that, the war will have ended, and there will be no need to have troops in Afghanistan — or buy crops from those farmers.

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  32. By perry on November 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    One thing is pretty certain. If the military can’t do this, with their billions in budget dollars, the rest of us sure can’t. Their goal is 50% alternatives by 2020, but the world will be facing shortfalls much sooner than that. Maybe as soon as next year.

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  33. By paul-n on November 3, 2010 at 12:22 am

    It’s not that the miltary can’t do this, they can afford to buy biofuels.  But this brings two questions;

    1) In the forward operating areas, is on site biofuel production (not electricity from solar/wind) really possible/practical?  Even if a meaningful supply is possible (doubtful, in Afghanistan) does it divert more manpower to fuel production than is presently used for fuel supply?  As Wendell points out, of the army is actually on the move, doing things, then it is totally impractical.

    2)If the biofuels must be produced domestically and then sent to the operating areas, what possible operational advantage is there from this over just using oil?

     

    If the government is truly serious about GHG’s then they should start with coal fired power plants – anything less than that is a PR exercise to make people feel good about it while just fiddling around the edges of the issue.

    And if they are not serious about that, then spending part of the military’s budget on biofuels (other than doing the performance testing) is just wasting money that could be spent on more important military things, or not spent at all.

     

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  34. By Wendell Mercantile on November 3, 2010 at 12:36 am

    If the military can’t do this, with their billions in budget dollars, the rest of us sure can’t.

    Perry~

    I can tell you have never been in combat. It’s not a question of money.

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  35. By Kit P on November 3, 2010 at 10:02 am

    “If the government
    is truly serious about GHG’s then they should start with coal fired
    power plants – anything less than that is a PR exercise to make
    people feel good about it while just fiddling around the edges of the
    issue.”

     

    Paul the US
    government for the most part does not operate coal fired power
    plants. The exception might be TVA. TVA is finishing construction
    of Watts Bar II. The have told the NRC that they are reactivating
    the construction permit for Bellefonte I which been sitting in a
    partially constructed state for more than 20 years. The stated
    purpose is to replace older coal plants rather than refurbish them
    and install modern pollution controls. The construction crew from
    Watts Bar II will move over to Bellefonte I and then maybe Bellefonte
    II.

     

    This might not
    happen because the POTUS appoints the board members for TVA. Some of
    them sound just like Paul. If we just use CFL then we will not have
    to build expensive power plants. Generation and conservation are two
    different things.

     

    Yes power plants,
    yes light bulbs are cheap but we still have to build them. Industry
    and people keep using electricity.

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