Air Force to Biofuels Industry: Ball Is In Your Court

10/26/2011
By Eric Beidel
For the Air Force, energy independence can seem like a waiting game.
 
The service already has certified nearly all of its aircraft to fly on a synthetic blend of JP-8 jet fuel and biofuel. It has used alternative fuels for transcontinental and supersonic flights, as well as to conduct aerial refuelings. This past spring, the Thunderbirds performed stunts using a mix of JP-8 and biofuel from the camelina plant seed.
 
The service is ready to make the switch to green power, said Kevin T. Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy. But industry has yet to deliver sufficient supplies at affordable prices.
 
“We’ve held up our part of the bargain thus far, but there are many variables in that industry that we do not control,” Geiss said. “Where are the feedstocks going to be? Where are the facilities going to be built? It doesn’t make sense to have feedstock grown 2,000 miles away from where you’re providing a development facility.”
 
A Department of Agriculture report found that the country needs to build 527 refineries at a cost of $168 billion to meet standards set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandates that the U.S. fuel supply include 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022.
 
The military also has goals that depend on being able to purchase large amounts of alternative fuels at competitive prices. The Air Force intends to use them for half of its domestic flights by 2016.
 
“The Air Force is a consumer, not a producer,” Geiss said. “What we are doing is making sure we can use that fuel when it becomes available . . . we don’t see it as our job to develop production facilities.”
 
The service is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government. Last year, the Air Force used 2.5 billion gallons of fuel at a cost of more than $8 billion. It probably will spend more than $9 billion on fuel this year, Geiss said.
 
The increase in usage can be put into perspective and may even be evidence that the Air Force has turned a corner when it comes to energy. Though the service is being asked to haul nearly 30 percent more cargo than in recent years, it is using just 3 percent more fuel to accomplish these flights, which carry personnel, ammunition and other items to destinations around the world. The Air Force performs about 900 of these mobility fights each day.
 
“Our fuel bill’s not going to disappear,” Geiss said.
 
But by 2013, the service plans to have every single one of its more than 5,500 aircraft certified to fly on sources other than petroleum. The Air Force also is beginning to investigate cellulosic fuel, which would reduce the need to use feedstocks such as corn to create biofuel.
 
“All of these efforts ensure that when alternative fuels that meet our requirements are available in sufficient quantities at a cost-competitive price, the Air Force will be ready to buy and use them,” Geiss said. 
“We’re looking for industry to do what it’s best at doing and figuring out how to make it work.”

Topics: Aviation, Business Trends, Energy, Alternative Energy

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