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RAND Report Says Alternative Fuels Won't Work For Military—Navy Disagrees

Just last week, Energy Digital featured a report on the United States militarys efforts to pursue alternative fuel technology, in particular biofuels. T...

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|Jan 25|magazine7 min read
Just last week, Energy Digital featured a report on the United States military’s efforts to pursue alternative fuel technology, in particular biofuels. The Navy has been pursuing biofuels with vigor and is planning to reduce their fossil fuel consumption by 50% by 2020. However, the RAND Corporation presented a report to congress just yesterday urging the U.S. military to rethink their position on alternative fuels, claiming that they are an unviable solution to the U.S. military’s foreseeable energy needs.

According to the report, there is no way that the 10 year timetable laid out by the Navy will be sufficient time to produce enough biofuel at a cheap enough price to cover half the energy needs of Naval air, land and sea fleets. The report does however cite a process that could work as a cheap abundant alternative fuel option that has yet to make the renewable energy headlines, perhaps because it isn’t a renewable fuel source at all.

RAND Corp. believes that the Fischer-Tropsch process, which converts coal to diesel, is the best bet for an oil substitution when it comes to the military. Coal is still cheap and in abundance, but comes with the negative environmental implications associated with its extraction process. The report states that "Considering economics, technical readiness, greenhouse gas emissions and general environmental concerns, [Fischer-Tropsch] fuels derived from a mixture of coal and biomass represent the most promising approach to producing amounts of alternative fuels that can meet military, as well as appreciable levels of civilian, needs by 2030."

This seems a bit suspicious, that in the presence of a new republican-majority U.S. congress with stated intentions of reducing environmental oversight on coalmining, that the RAND Corporation would promote a coal-based alternative fuel over the several other biofuel options. Even algal biofuel—which is already successfully being converted into diesel and jet fuel for military applications—is being declined by RAND. Granted, RAND is a compendium of some of the brightest minds in the world, but maybe they’ve got it wrong on this one.

The U.S. Navy seems to think so. “We have been engaged with the biofuels industry. We know what they are capable of doing, and we are confident they will be able to deliver the fuels at the quantities and at the price point we need," said Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for the U.S. Navy.

It doesn’t seem like RAND’s report will phase the military’s heavy investment into biofuels and other alternatives—especially in light of the fact that the report neglected to consult officials from the Navy’s higher-ranking secretariat. Nonetheless, the coal-to-fuel process will undoubtedly make its way onto the list of fuel options being actively pursued by the military.

Source: RAND Corporation