Sen. Mark Udall talks military biofuels on Platts Energy Week

By Erin Voegele | May 30, 2012

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., appeared on the Memorial Day edition of Platts Energy Week to talk about federal funding of the military’s biofuel initiatives. His appearance came following the May 24 announcement by the Senate Committee on Armed Services that provisions undermining military efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil were included in its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. Udall is a member of the committee.

During his appearance, Udall stressed that he thinks the Pentagon should continue to invest in biofuels. While federal lawmakers have argued the biofuel initiatives pursued by the U.S. Department of Defense are too expensive, Udall argued that investing in biofuels now will result in lower fuel costs down the line. It is a given that oil prices will increase in the future, he said. Having a competitor in the form of biofuels will be important, he added.

According to information released by Platts, the Navy paid $26 per gallon for biobased jet fuel in late 2011. That is a significant premium over the market price of $4 per gallon for traditional jet fuel. While the Navy predicts the premium would drop to under $6 per gallon by 2020, the price for biobased jet will remain significantly higher than petroleum fuel.

While Udall said those numbers should not be ignored, he said looking at history and trends indicate our nation would be well-served over the long-term by making these investments. “I am convinced that over time the price of these biofuels is going to drop dramatically,” he said. “Not every bet pays off, but I am convinced this is the right thing to do.”

The DOD’s healthy budget is one reason why Udall noted the biofuels initiatives should be funded. National security is at the top of everybody’s lists, he said. “It would be shortsighted in my opinion…to cut off this work that the military is doing right now,” he said, noting that Navy leadership in particular has been very supportive of biofuels. “Let’s give [those leaders] what they are asking to have,” Udall said. “They know the price of being dependent on fossil fuels, particularly those that are produced in a foreign setting.”

Udall also spoke about the importance of balancing costs and opportunities. We need to provide oversight, he said, but I really believe this is a frontier that we have to embrace as America.   




4 Responses

  1. Cliff Claven



    There is now a flood of rigorous life-cycle analyses that show that liquid biofuels are worse than 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 (from 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 5 for gasoline). 4. Negative energy balance (costing more energy to make than they provide back to civilization). 5. More volatile in price than oil, and their price tracks with oil (when oil went up 6% over Libya crisis, ethanol went up 8%). 6. Contain less energy per gallon than diesel or gasoline (i.e., would require more tanker truck convoys on the battlefield). 7. And in the ultimate irony, they require more fossil fuel to produce per gallon than a gallon of fossil fuel. The taxpayer billions thrown away on this fool's errand since 2005 follow the taxpayer billions thrown away in the 70s and 80s. The U.S. Navy just set a new U.S. military record in February by paying $4,454.55 a gallon ($187,000 a barrel) to Albemarle Corp. biobutanol jet fuel, surpassing its previous record of $427 a gallon ($18,000 a barrel) for Solazyme algae oil in 2009. The lowest price the U.S. military has paid for biofuels since 2007 is $26.75 a gallon ($1,123 a barrel) for 450,000 gallons of Tyson chicken fat residue-based fuel from Dynamic Fuels. Meanwhile, conventional petroleum jet fuel and diesel has been available to the U.S. Military for $2.31 a gallon or less (2010 data). The truth is out there in the science journals if you genuinely want it.

  2. Carlos A. Fernandez



    There is not such a flood of LCA. Not a single data in Mr. Claven's message is the result of scientific consensus, but a way of feeding a political position. This way of thinking is hampering the possibility of having a rational debate on how to get sustainable biofuels.

  3. Dr. Longhammer



    I agree with Mr. Fernandez. Claven's comments and data is flawed in so many ways. Particularly when he lumps all "biofuels" together as one definition. The word biofuel encompasses a wide variety of biomass based fuels whereby each has their own characteristics and life cycle analyses. Biodiesel is completely different from ethanol, biobutanol, renewable diesel, etc., and vice versa. NOT ALL BIOFUELS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Thanks for the misinformation Claven.

  4. Will Deliver



    I believe energy is the number one most important issue to be addressed during this November election. Before the election, contact your Senators and Representitives and tell them you will vote them out of office if a sustainable energy policy is not produced by that time. Renewable and sustainable energy investmant is better than fighting wars in foreign lands.


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