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Navy Fires Over RAND Report's Bow

The U.S. Navy is coming out swinging at a recent report sent to Congress by the RAND Corporation that claims the sea service's plans to use alternative energy sources for half its power and fuel needs by 2020 won't result in "any direct benefit."

The Navy "has serious reservations... about the conclusions in the report" that claims coal-to-liquid fuel sources offer far better prospects for an alternatively fueled Navy than a biofuel powered fleet, said Tom Hicks, Deputy AssistantSecretary of the Navy for Energy during a Jan. 25 phone call with defense bloggers and reporters.

He went on to say the document containst numerous "misrepresentations and factual errors" about the status of the Navy's alternative fuel research and the status of the domestic biofuel industry.

"At the end of the day, [the report] is just not up to RAND's standards," said Hicks.

The document, presented to Congress yesterday, claims the U.S. biofuel industry can't yet provide the military with fuel at economical rates.

From a RAND summary of the report:

To realize the national benefits of alternative fuels, the military needs to reassess where it is placing its emphasis in both fuel testing and technology development," said James Bartis, lead author of the study and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Too much emphasis is focused on seed-derived oils that displace food production, have very limited production potential and may cause greenhouse gas emissions well above those of conventional petroleum fuels."
The military also has invested in advanced technology to produce jet fuel from algae-derived oils. According to the study, algae-derived fuel is a research topic and not an emerging option that the military can use to supply its operations.
It goes on to say:
Most of the defense department's efforts in alternative fuel development are geared toward proving technical viability rather than establishing a process that yields demonstrating affordable and environmentally sound production. The latter two components are notoriously hard to accomplish, as evidenced by the length of the Department of Energy's efforts in fuel cell and solar photovoltaic technology development.
Hicks repeatedly refuted these claims, saying that the report's author has not engaged with the Navy or biofuel industry nearly enough to make that assertion.

The report calls for the Pentagon to virtually abandon its efforts to field biofuels and focus instead on energy conservation.

Minimize resources directed at testing and certification of hydrotreated renewable oils, including oils derived from seed crops (e.g., camelina) and algae. Testing and certifying these fuels in high-performance propulsion systems used by the military is simply not on the critical path for resolving the uncertainties associated with these fuels
Hicks went on to say that based on heavy interaction with biofuel producers as well as with private equity firms and venture capital funds backing the producers, that he expects "the emergence of a mature biofuels industry" in the next five years capable of competing with petrolium based fuels without the benefit of government subsidies.

"We have countless examples of" biofuel plants being financed, built and fuel being delivered, said Hicks.

The one factual error he was able to point out was that a draft copy of the report said the Navy had its own test program for coal-to-liquids based fuels, known as Fischer-Tropsch, something Hicks denied.

The Navy has been working over the past few years to test out biofuels on everything from ships to F/A-18E/F Super Hornets (such as the one pictured above that flew on a mixture of biofuel last year). Any alternative fuels used by the sea service will produce the same amount or fewer greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based fuels, as required by law, said Hicks.

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