Air Force, Navy To Participate In Project To Produce Drop-In Fuels On A Commercial Scale
The USAF has announced an advanced drop-in biofuels production project. The move coincides with an announcement by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Energy along with the Navy have announced of an investment of up to $30 million in a public-private partnership to produce commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels as part of the administration's plan for enabling America's energy security.
The goal of the Air Force project is to establish one or more complete domestic value chains capable of producing drop-in replacement biofuels. This includes feedstock production and logistics, conversion facilities (Integrated Biorefineries), and fuel blending, transportation, and logistics. The Government intends to form an Integrated Biofuels Production Enterprise (IBPE) comprised of partnerships that establish the complete value chain. The contemplated effort will include the design, construction and/or retrofit, validation, qualification and operation of a domestic commercial-scale IBPE that meets a target of at least 10 million gallons per year neat biofuel production capacity. The IBPE will be capable of producing drop-in liquid transportation fuels targeted for military operational use, and as such, must be approved and certified MILSPEC JP-5, JP-8 and/or F-76 equivalents by the time the IBPE becomes operational.
The business blog of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a conference call with journalists that the companies participating in the first phase of the program will be selected this fall.
Critics of the program include Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who said that it is not the Navy's purview to fund and sponsor new energy technologies.
But the announcement was widely hailed otherwise. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) applauded the DoD’s announced public-private partnership opportunity to support an integrated domestic advanced drop-in biofuel biorefinery, designed to share the cost of establishing one or more first-of-a-kind biorefineries and feedstock supply chains to provide the U.S. military with already certified blends of biofuels.
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, stated, “The domestic advanced biofuel industry can play a huge part in promoting energy security, which is critical for military readiness and national security. Ensuring the reliability and affordability of fuel supplies through diversification to advanced drop-in alternative fuels is essential to sustain the U.S. military’s readiness, since oil price volatility has already negatively impacted military readiness. This year alone, the $30 increase in oil prices resulted in more than $3 billion in additional, unplanned costs to DoD. We have to realize we can’t fly planes with solar power or sail ships with batteries; advanced biofuels are critical for both civilian and military aviation and maritime uses.
“Private companies have made substantial investments and rapid progress in researching and developing advanced biofuels. Building new advanced biofuel biorefineries requires large capital investments at a time when capital formation has been hampered by the recent economic downturn. Public-private partnerships such as that announced today can help attract the additional private investment needed to complete the job. The Defense Department has used these partnerships many times in the past to ensure that we maintain a domestic capacity to produce materials that are vital to national security.
The airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) said in a news release that the new round of government investment strengthens the momentum to turn advanced aviation biofuels into reality, enhance America's energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs. "The government support of a new biorefinery moves us closer to our goal of making the fuels commercially viable and building on the industry's impressive environmental record," said A4A Vice President, Environmental Affairs Nancy Young.
A4A said it remains committed to doing its part through its ongoing initiatives, including the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), the Strategic Alliance for Alternative Fuels with the U.S. military, and the Farm-to-Fly program with the USDA and Boeing to further the development and deployment of sustainable alternative aviation fuels. Deployment of commercially viable alternative fuels is part of a set of targets collectively established by the aviation industry to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under a global sectoral approach, including a commitment to carbon-neutral growth from 2020. By investing billions of dollars in fuel-saving aircraft and engines, innovative technologies and advanced avionics, the U.S. airline industry improved its fuel efficiency by 120 percent between 1978 and 2011, resulting in emissions savings equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road each of those years.