Can the U.S. military move to renewable fuels?
Sohbet Karbuz, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The U.S. military is the world's largest single consumer of oil. Its efforts to fund renewable energy projects are haphazard and do little to address its dependence on oil for vehicles. A full energy-use profile would allow the U.S. military to know how it uses its fuels, which would allow for a truly comprehensive energy policy.
In a 1906 planning document, the U.S. War Department imagined, "In 1950, the U.S. military [will be] a highly effective, mobile, and mutually supporting force, protecting all required American interests through dominant air, land, and sea operations powered by a petroleum energy standard that is reliably and economically produced from domestic sources."
That vision came true except regarding the last two words. Oil production in the United States, the largest producer in the world at the beginning of the 20th century, reached its peak in 1970. Today, the United States is the world's largest oil importer, and the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. (For more detail see War Without Oil: A Catalyst For True Transformation.)
From the end of the Cold War to the first years of the 21st century, the Pentagon's energy consumption dropped by some 40 percent, but with the "Global War on Terror," consumption has risen again. Oil fuels the U.S. military's nearly 11,000 aircraft and helicopters, 200 combat and support ships, 200,000 tracked and wheeled vehicles, and 190,000 non-combat vehicles, such as trucks, passenger cars, and buses (not to mention many unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles).
Although fuel costs represent less than 3 percent of the Defense Department budget, indirect costs such as those for transporting fuel to battlefields and distributing it to the end-user, add to the total. When the cost of the army's entire logistics network is added to the cost of delivered fuel, gas prices are $13-$19 per gallon. In the air force, these costs can be much higher, military grade jet fuel delivered through aerial refueling costs upwards of $42 a gallon.
The military is aware of its dependence on oil, and is working to increase its energy efficiency and to create viable alternative fuels such as biofuels and synthetic liquid fuels from natural gas and coal.
(31 October 2008)