* Alternative energy will remain far more expensive
* Military fears of fuel shortages called unfounded
* Findings may stoke clash with Congress over renewable fuel
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, June 19 Renewable fuels for U.S.
military ships and jets are likely to remain "far more
expensive" than petroleum products absent a technological
breakthrough, a study for the U.S. Air Force found on Tuesday,
questioning a Pentagon push for alternative energy.
The study by the RAND Corporation think tank said that while
the U.S. Defense Department is a huge consumer of fuel at about
340,000 barrels per day, that figure is a tiny fraction of the
87 million barrels per day of global demand, too small to
influence price significantly.
Efforts to make fuel from seed or algae oils are not
producing at the scale or price necessary to meet the military's
demand at a reasonable cost, said James Bartis, the RAND
researcher who authored a volume of the report.
"Pending a major technical breakthrough, renewable jet fuel
and marine fuels will continue to be far more expensive than
petroleum-based fuels," he said.
That assessment is likely to stoke the current confrontation
in Washington over the Pentagon's efforts to promote alternative
fuels. U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has angered members of
Congress by pushing development of biofuels for use in ships and
Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed a measure
that would bar military spending on biofuels unless they are
competitively priced with petroleum.
The move came after the Navy spent $12 million on 450,000
gallons of biofuel to power an exhibition next month of Mabus's
Great Green Fleet, which will use nuclear energy in its aircraft
carrier and submarines and a blend of biofuels and petroleum in
its cruisers, destroyers and jet aircraft.
Mabus says the U.S. can create a market for alternative
fuels that is large enough to drive down prices to the point
where they would be competitive with petroleum.
SKEPTICISM IN CONGRESS
Lawmakers are skeptical of that view, saying Mabus and the
Pentagon have not produced the analysis needed to back up his
Representative Randy Forbes, one of his leading critics,
said on Monday that Mabus needed to explain how he came to the
conclusion that renewable fuels can achieve price
competitiveness with petroleum.
"We are absolutely opposed to the secretary trying to spend
taxpayer money to create alternative markets just because he
wants those alternative markets without any analysis to
substantiate what it's going to take to successfully do that,"
In his report, Bartis said price fluctuations in the oil
market would at times force the U.S. military to spend heavily
on fuel, but "alternative liquid fuels do not offer DoD (the
Defense Department) a way to appreciably reduce fuel costs."
He said U.S. military fears about not having access to an
adequate fuel supply were not credible. The military consumes
about 340,000 barrels of oil per day, less than a half of 1
percent of global demand. The United States produces more than 8
million barrels of oil per day domestically.
"There is no credible scenario in which the U.S. military
would be unable to access the supplies of fuel it needs to
defend the nation," Bartis said.
He said the most effective way for the U.S. military to deal
with fuel concerns is to reduce its own consumption by
purchasing more energy-efficient equipment and implementing
other conservation measures.
Although questioning the military's efforts to pioneer
alternative fuels, the RAND report underscored the importance of
the Navy and Air Force in promoting stability in the oil
producing regions by ensuring sea lanes remain open to all.
The study said the Caspian region was of growing importance
for global oil supplies, with Turkey aiming to become an
international energy hub.
"To achieve that ambition, Turkey needs to improve
protection of its pipelines and energy infrastructure, which
have been the target of repeated terrorist attacks by the
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)," said Andrew Weiss, who authored
a volume of the study.