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By Robert Rapier on Jan 25, 2011 with 31 responses

Great Green Fleet Neither Great Nor Green?

In my recent interview with Tom Hicks, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy), he explained some of the Navy’s energy initiatives. One of those is to sail the “Great Green Fleet.” The goal is that in 2012 they will put a carrier strike group in local operations entirely on alternative fuels and then in 2016 they plan to deploy that strike group on all alternative fuels. By 2020, the goal is that 50% of all of the Navy’s energy consumption will come from alternative sources.

The reasons for these goals are obvious. The U.S. Department of Defense consumes more oil than any other organization in the world, and most of that oil comes from other countries. So this is an obvious vulnerability with respect to military preparedness.

But a new study argues that these goals won’t necessarily make the military better:

Study says greener military isn’t better military, DoD disagrees

Washington (CNN) — The Department of Defense has put a lot of money and effort into finding alternative fuels to replace petroleum-based fuels it uses now, but a new study concludes the military will not benefit from alternative energy research. The DoD “has spent hundreds of millions of dollars” on these testing and research programs, but for all the cost and time, there is little promised benefit over using fossil fuels, according to the congressionally-mandated study by the Rand Corp.

Much of the DoD alternative fuel research has focused on turning vegetable matter, like algae, soybeans or camelina seeds into fuel. The fuel will burn, but the study said that doesn’t make it useful. “Too much emphasis is focused on seed-derived oils that displace food production, have very limited production potential and may cause greenhouse gas emissions well above those of conventional petroleum fuels,” said James Bartis, lead author of the study and a senior policy researcher at Rand, a nonprofit research organization.

Tom Hicks disagreed with the study’s conclusions:

Tom Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy disagrees with the study on a number of fronts. “We have a different view than what authors share,” Hicks said Monday in an interview with CNN. Hicks said the study doesn’t take into account that camelina, which is basically a weed similar to the mustard plant, can be grown while fields are not being used for food crops,” Hicks said. “It can be used in rotation with wheat, and other grains and provide nutrients back into the soil.”

The study questioned the environmental benefits, and Hicks answered (as he did in my interview) that there are legal requirements that have to be met:

The study by Rand also questions whether the alternative fuels will be environmentally friendly. Hicks said, before the military starts using the fuels on a regular basis they have to meet ecological standards. “We are held by law … any barrel of oil that we replace, petroleum, has to have a life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions equal to or less than that.”

The law that Hicks is referring to is found within EISA 2007 (Energy Independence and Security Act). It is a provision called Section 526. What it says in general is that if petroleum fuel are replaced with an alternative fuel, the alternative must have equal to or lower overall greenhouse gas emissions. As Hicks indicated, this disqualifies coal-to-liquids (CTL) from being one of the fuels the military can use.

But here is what I think will happen. As 2012 approaches, it will become clear that the scale of the military’s oil usage is far beyond the scale that biofuels can be reasonably expected to provide. So I believe there will be more and more pressure to include CTL in the mix. Ultimately it will come down to a few options. The military can:

  1. Use a lot less fuel — in which case biofuels could play a significant role.
  2. Continue to rely on petroleum to fuel their fleet — probably the cheapest option but also keeping their supplies vulnerable.
  3. Decide that CTL can provide significant quantities of fuel and get Section 526 repealed.

I expect what will happen will be a combination of the three. I expect biofuels to play a role, albeit a much smaller role than the Navy envisions. Petroleum will continue to provide the lion’s share of fuel across all branches of military, but friendly countries like Canada will continue to be under pressure to develop their oil sands so the military can have access to more secure supplies. And finally, because the U.S. has large coal reserves, Section 526 will be repealed when the military feels the need is great enough, and we will start building CTL plants.

The environmental implications of oil sands and CTL are potentially very high, but if the choice ultimately comes down to whether the military has access to fuel, I can safely predict which option will be chosen.

  1. By Wendell Mercantile on January 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Right now, I’m going to side with Rand. They don’t have a dog in the fight, and they have an excellent reputation for the quality of their studies.

    And finally, because the U.S. has large coal reserves, Section 526 will be repealed when the military feels the need is great enough, and we will start building CTL plants.

    Absolutely. When the crunch comes, we won’t be able to ignore the potential of our coal reserves. If it ever becomes a question of national economic survival, Section 526 won’t be worth a hill of beans.

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  2. By Optimist on January 25, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Unbelieveable! Finally a serious debate about renewable energy, driven not by the ever-pliable prostitutians, but by the military! Civilians apparently have lost their ability to deal with the truth. I guess that’s what you get when political correctness is the ultimate value. Almost enough to make one hope for a military coup.

    I agree, the military have been very optimistic in their goals. But then, one way to achieve ambitious goals is to aim for them.

    I suspect a lot of useful information will come from this exercise, including the identification of feasible feedstocks, and what it will cost to use them.

    As for Rand Corp’s complaint that “hundreds of millions of dollars” has been spent: this sure beats subsidies for Big Ag to produce ethanol…

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  3. By Mark Duffett on January 25, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    What about nuclear, at least for those bits of the navy that aren’t airborne?

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  4. By paul-n on January 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I think the military’s efforts to find alternative fuels, or ways to operate with less/none of them should be supported, as there are operational advantages to this.

    What I think is wrong, and don’t really understand how this came about, is that an act about energy security and independence, is holding the military to a standard about carbon emissions. What is the point of low carbon fuel if it is neither secure nor independent (or even available)?  I quite agree with RR’s position that when it is finally agreed that section 526 can’t be met, section 526 will be amended, just like we see with the cellulosic ethanol mandate.

    It seems to me a much better goal for the military would have been that it can source all its fuel from within the US (or more realisitically,  continental North America), and operate accordingly. Sourcing fuel in the field of operations (biofuels etc)  is a bonus, but can’t be relied upon as it just may not be there.  

    If the US government is serious about carbon emissions there are much bigger fish to fry than the military.  By all means let the military do whatever they can to reduce the fuel dependency of their operations, but requiring them to use low carbon fuels, when they are of limited availability, reduces their capability, instead of improving it.  

    I hope we never see the situation where a soldier dies because of this policy, and if we do then shame on the politicians that brought it in.

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  5. By Kit P on January 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    “but if the choice ultimately comes down to whether the military has access to fuel, I can safely predict which option will be chosen.”

     

    Without the US military, especially the navy, the world would not have access to fuel. It does not take much to disrupt the sea lanes. Try it and you will find out how effective nuclear-powered carrier strike group can be. CTL is only needed if you do not have one of those.

     

    “Right now, I’m going to side with Rand.”

     

    Did you read the study Wendell?

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/monog…..MG969.html

     

    James Bartis is the lead author and very qualified but you will not learn anything new.

     

    “What about nuclear, at least for those bits of the navy that aren’t airborne?”

     

    Well Mark back in the day when we faced off against the USSR in the Mediterranean Sea, carrier strike group included a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, two nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers that could keep up without refueling, and unknown number (at least one) of nuke attack subs. However, the 9 CGNs are all gone without an capable adversary like the USSR. Unless ships are in a hurry to get some place, ships do no use much fuel. For a displacement hull, double the speed and the fuel requirements increase by a factor of eight.

     

    Since the function of the “”Great Green Fleet” is to sit in foreign ports and issue press releases about my navy being greener than your navy, providing biofuel fuel should not be that hard.

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  6. By Mark Duffett on January 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Kit P said:

    … Unless ships are in a hurry to get some place, ships do not use much fuel…

    Since the function of the “”Great Green Fleet” is to sit in foreign ports and issue press releases about my navy being greener than your navy, providing biofuel fuel should not be that hard.


     

    Well that’s all right then, thanks Kit P :-/

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  7. By Kit P on January 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm

     

    “If the US government is serious about carbon emissions ..”

     

    Welcome back Paul but tell me one organization that is serious. It is the perfect wedge issue. Fire up the base and throw up a few shiny whirligigs things and they are happy. The risk of consequences from AGW is the closest number to absolute zero that you can find.

     

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  8. By Leslie Glustrom on January 25, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    US coal reserves are strongly overstated.

    Go to the USGS National Coal Resource Assessment to find that less than 20% of US coal “reserves” are likely to be economically accessible.

    What the EIA has been calling “reserves” are not really reserves and should more accurately be termed “resources” which include lots of coal that will likely be too difficult to access in an economic fashion.

    Around the country coal costs have been going up rapidly with many states seeing coal costs coming close to doubling in the last decade.

    Don’t count on “vast” “reserves” of “cheap” US coal.

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  9. By Benny BND Cole on January 26, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Hey, I have a better idea: How about we mothball about 8 or our 11 carrier strike forces?

    1. No one wants to close shipping lanes, one reason stated for having a Navy. China wants to close shipping lanes? No more exports/ Russia doesn’t want to export oil? Oh, those guys in the hills of Afghanie want to close shipping lanes?

    2. Surface ships are very vulnerable, and can be sunk by missiles, subs and airplanes. They say there are two kinds of Navy vessels: Subs and targets. Another joke it that after a battle, all the ships will be subs, designed or otherwise.

    3. They say you have an aircraft carrier so it can launch planes to defend itself, before retreating. BTW, tracking quiet diesel-electric subs is almost impossible.

    Really, the USA used to demobilize after wars. We demobilized after WWII, and that was a pretty serious war. we demobilized after the revolutionary War, after foreign troops had camped around our country.

    Now, we have no almost no enemies of note, and we are spending double what we spent 10 years ago on our military, and more in real terms than ever before.

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  10. By sameer-kulkarni on January 26, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Today’s energy scenario:

    A patient (Nation) is undergoing an expensive treatment for high risk disease (dwindling oil reserves) in a specialized hospital. The patient is currently supported by limited Insurance money (Oil refiners), but he is desperately banking on a bunch of lottery tickets (Myriad of potential Renewable energy technologies) which he thinks will bail him out before he runs out of Insurance money resulting in breaking open up his Bonds/FD’s/Investments (Shale Oil, CTL, GTL etc.,) etc.,

    Jokes apart, while working on clean tech I developed a theoretical model for an industrial scale biofuel refinery. Each aspect of the model looked quite Ok until I calculated the area required for cultivation of feedstock. I turned out that was equivalent to the area of the city i live in which shattered me completely. So there are serious limitations of the viability of biofuels development.

    I would consider a better approach where technologists develop an integrated environmentally friendly CTL/BTL/Shale processes along with a realistic platform for carbon sequestration together. The after effects of these refinery’s would be absorbed by sequestration tech. Also unlike biofuels which require arable/marginal lands, carbon sequestration can be employed in oceans too http://sequestration.mit.edu/p…..ection.pdf.

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  11. By paul-n on January 26, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Welcome back Paul but tell me one organization that is serious. It is the perfect wedge issue.

    I quite agree – if the government is serious, there are many more carbon sources to worry about than the military, and if they are not serious then they shouldn’t force the military to handicap itself by doing what no one else is being asked to do, just so people can feel good about it.

    I have not heard the “my navy is greener than yours” one before – you being a former Navy officer, that must be quite saddening.

     

    @ Leslie;

    Technically you may be correct that many “reserves” would not be mined at current prices, but they will be mined if the price is high enough.

    With Powder River Basin  coal at $ 13.50/ton (source), when the international trading price for Australian coal (the international benchmark) is at $100/ton, I would say there is a large amount of coal that will be mined in the US if the domestic price reached $100/ton.  Alaska also has massive reserves that are hardly being tapped, as does Canada.

    If the cheapest way of generating electricity gets more expensive, so be it, but it is still likely to be the cheapest.

     

     

     

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  12. By mac on January 26, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I’m sure Secretary Hicks over at Navy headquarters will come up with a solution to the bio-fuels question. It’s like they used to say in the Navy,

    “There are always three ways to do some thing:”

    1. The Right Way
    2. The Wrong Way
    3. The Navy Way

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  13. By Jerry Unruh on January 26, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Coal may be more limited than generally thought; c.f. Peak coalGermany2007.pdf

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  14. By Wendell Mercantile on January 26, 2011 at 5:57 am

    So there are serious limitations of the viability of biofuels development.

    SAM~

    The big issues about biofuels has always been logistics and scale. Not far from me is a coal-fired power plant that had the noble idea of converting to burn biomass. They changed their plans when they discovered it would take almost all of the biomass within a 25 mile radius to supply the Btus they were getting from coal, plus a fleet of several tens of semi-trailers running 24/7 to haul that biomass from fields to the power plant.

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  15. By Benny BND Cole on January 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    OT-
    I listened to parts of the SOTU address last night, and I think I heard all that pertained to energy. I found almost nothing I agree with. I am not a fevered anti-Obamaite; I even voted for him.

    But his energy policy seems deluded.

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  16. By OD on January 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    There is plenty of coal to be had in the US.

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  17. By OD on January 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Not sure why my link didn’t work, anyway..

    http://bittooth.blogspot.com/2…..-less.html

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  18. By rrapier on January 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Mark Duffett said:

    What about nuclear, at least for those bits of the navy that aren’t airborne?


     

    From the just-released RAND report:

    “In October 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus committed the Navy and Marine Corps to “creating a Green Strike Group composed of nuclear vessels and ships pow- ered by biofuels” by 2012 and deploying it by 2016. By 2020, at least 50 percent of the energy the Navy consumes is to come from alternative sources.”

    So the services are still planning to utilize nuclear power.

    RR

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  19. By rrapier on January 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Benny BND Cole said:

    Hey, I have a better idea: How about we mothball about 8 or our 11 carrier strike forces?


     

    I believe that steps like that are inevitable as fuel becomes are more precious commodity. That will be one of the ways the services cope: Simply use less by deploying fewer forces.

    RR

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  20. By paul-n on January 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I believe that steps like that are inevitable as fuel becomes are more precious commodity. That will be one of the ways the services cope: Simply use less by deploying fewer forces.

    Well, if you look at the (US) Air Force (and Army), they are already doing this – less fighters and more drones – far more fuel efficient, and less ground resources, in the operational area, to support them.  

    I wonder how long before we see a carrier loaded with drones?

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  21. By Benny BND Cole on January 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Paul N and RR–

    Change comes to any federal agency slowly, if at all.
    I suspect any federal agency needs to be sunsetted every 10 years.
    The Navy will not give up its 11 carrier strike forces 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or 100 years after the collapse.

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  22. By Kit P on January 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    “you being a former Navy officer, that must be quite saddening.”

     

    No, actually! Being able to differentiate between BS and reality is part of the training. The modern US Navy is awesome.

    “Subs and targets.”

     

    It is called standing the line. There are not enough US marines in South Korea to stop North Korea. However. Start killing US marines and the US Navy strikes back. With a little help from long range Air Force bombers, the North Korea military will be destroyed in 48 hours. I am not sure that the leader of North Korea understands that he is not really a god but he will be a dead god.

    “BTW, tracking quiet diesel-electric subs is almost impossible.”

     

    Not that hard Benny. Many Benny want to wait until he sees the blast wave coming from Long Beach Harbor delivered by a North Korean sub. The time to detect subs and terrorist is at their base of operation.

    “We demobilized after WWII”

     

    Yes, the US miltitary has demobilized.  The US military is relatively small. What the US lacks in the number of troops, we make up with being very good with technologies. One of the funny things about all those burning Russian tanks in Iraq, not many had dead bodies. I suspect they got a cell phone call from the navy saying it was time to leave. Staying ‘good’ requires constant training.

    “I believe that steps like that are inevitable as fuel becomes are more precious commodity.”

     

    Maybe I need to say it again more simply. All US aircraft carriers and submarine propulsion uses nuclear reactors that last the life of the ship. Escort ship do not use lots of fuel unless they are going fast. How much is that according to Rand:

     

    • 16.8 million barrels per year (Table 2.1, pg 6) naval vessels
    • 123 million barrels per year – total military

     

    To put that into perspective, Hawaii uses 1.08 million barrels per year to make electricity and 42.6 million barrels per year total http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/state…..cfm?sid=HI and California uses 682.6 million barrels.

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  23. By armchair261 on January 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Could CNG play a role? Or is energy density and/or infrastructure just not feasible?

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  24. By Kit P on January 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    “Could CNG play a role?”

    Think about how this would play out with CGN.

     

    “A fire broke out on Belknap following the collision, and during the fire her aluminium superstructure was melted, burned and gutted to the deck level.”

     

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U…..28CG-26%29

     

    Fires are scary on ships so fuel needs to have low volatility. Second navy ships refuel underway, so CNG is not very practical.

     

    Natural gas is a very bad transportation fuel,

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  25. By Wendell Mercantile on January 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Natural gas is a very bad transportation fuel…

    For ships perhaps. But it could work well for long-haul trucking, and for fleets (Ex: Taxi-cabs, garbage trucks, utility trucks, UPS, FedEx, etc.) that operate in a specific area.

    For long-haul trucking it wouldn’t be that difficult to put in refueling points at the many truck stops that dot the Interstate highway system.

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  26. By paul-n on January 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    CNG is widely used for thing likes urban transit buses, and it is a good fit for this application – dedicated fleet, predictable routes, cleaner exhaust than diesel in city conditions etc etc.

    But for military applications (or civilian remote area operations) CNG would be a logistical and safety nightmare.  

    The equipment to handle and store it is expensive and specialised.  Diesel fuel, if need be, can be stored transferred in anything from steel drums to plastic drink bottles.  It can be easily transferred from storage to vehicle, or vehicle to vehicle.  CNG needs specific equipment for everything and it must be rigourously maintained – something the military doesn’t always have time to do.  

     

     Putting CNG into military vehicles  is asking for trouble  - imagine what a target a CNG truck would be in an Afghanistan fuel convoy – hit that one truck, and you will likely destroy the entire convoy.  

     

    Use CNG in urban/fleet/train situations and use the fuel saved for the military – it will save lives too.

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  27. By Kit P on January 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    “CNG is widely used ..”

     

    Really!!!! Pual I am not saying that it can not be used as a transportation fuel I am saying it is a lousy fuel. Diesel and gasoline is widely used because they are good fuels for transportation. NG is widely used to heat homes and make electricity.

     

    Back in BC and using that liberal BS language where words have no meaning.

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  28. By paul-n on January 29, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Yes, really!

    I did not say it is not a lousy fuel – it is a pain in the neck to use for transport.  That is why it is only used where it is worth the trouble – and in the military (and for most civilian drivers) it is definitely not worth the trouble but for municipal buses, it often IS worth the trouble – no BC BS involved.  

    CNG is used for  municipal bus fleets in Canada, US, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, S. Korea, Turkey, Egypt and many European countries, and probably quite a few others I have not mentioned.  The Australian cities of Brisbane and Perth have adopted a CNG only policy for all new buses, as have several other cities in the world. 

    One of your favourite west coast cities,  Los Angeles, has now retired all of its diesel buses and only runs on CNG buses, over 2200 of them (link)

    I think that is enough to qualify my statement that it is “widely used”

    Instant coffee makes for a lousy coffee compared to the freshly brewed coffee, but instant is “widely used” – the two terms are not the same thing.

     

     

     

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  29. By Kit P on January 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    “That is why it is only used where it is worth the trouble – ..”

     

    It is never worth the trouble. There is a reason environment engineers are called ‘designated inmates’. I think if you dig deep enough in all your examples you will find liberal politicians over ruling the advice of fleet mangers and environment engineers. Los Angeles for example. Show me a dirty diesel and I will show you a poorly managed fleet. Also many of the places you listed could not survive following US regulations.

     

    “I think that is enough to qualify my statement that it is “widely used””

     

    IIRC correctly NG is a very small part of the mix. Try not get confused between the number of press releases and a few million school bus systems.

     

    I also think the underlying idea that there is a glut of NG in the US is false. Keeping up with demand is difficult. It takes a about a 1000 drilling rigs to do that. I have no problems with the likes of Pickesns marketing NG for transportation. Just do not tell me that more drilling off of California is bad for the environment and drilling on farms for the NG is better.

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  30. By Nicole on January 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    They really need to start consuming less fuel..

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  31. By Wendell Mercantile on January 30, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    They really need to start consuming less fuel…

    Nicole,

    Perhaps, but easier said than done. Americans (and I include our Canadian friends) and Western Europeans are addicted to the luxury that comes from burning fossil fuels, and the 2.3 billion plus in China and India very much want to become addicted to that same luxury.

    Why don’t you tell us what you are doing to consume less fuel, and stop living the luxurious life fuel gives you?

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