In Honor of Ethanol, I Will Recyle . . . a Blog Post

by Marlo Lewis on October 21, 2010

in Politics

At today’s press conference announcing new Obama administration biofuel initiatives (see here, here, and here), Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned that USDA has a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop bio-based alternatives to jet fuel. Vilsack’s press release describes the MOU as follows:

The Secretary also announced jointly with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a five year agreement to develop aviation fuel from forest and crop residues and other “green” feedstocks in order to decrease dependence on foreign oil and stabilize aviation fuel costs. Under the partnership, the agencies will bring together their experience in research, policy analysis and air transportation sector dynamics to assess the availability of different kinds of feedstocks that could be processed by bio-refineries to produce jet fuels.

About when will these “non-food” renewable jet fuels become competitive with conventional petroleum-based fuels? Secy. Vilsack did not venture to say. My guess is — quite a long time. Maybe even longer than it takes to make competitive auto fuel out of switch grass, corn stover, and wood waste.

One of my posts from a few months ago, on CEI’s OpenMarket.Org, goes straight to the point, so I recycle it below for your edification and amusement.

Bio-Jet Fuel — The Real $600 Toilet Seat?

The custom-designed $600 toilet seat for P-3C Orion antisubmarine aircraft — often depicted as the epitome of government waste — is an urban legend.

The “seat” was actually a plastic molding that fitted over the entire seat, tank, and toilet assembly, for which the contractor charged the Navy $100 apiece.

However, in the subsidy-driven world of biofuels, government can flush lots of your tax dollars down the gurgler.

DOD’s Quadrenniel Defense Review Report (QDR) crows that in 2009, the Navy “tested an F/A-18  engine on camelina-based biofuel” (pp. 87-88). Camelina is a non-edible plant in the mustard family.

On Earth Day 2010, an F/A-18 taking off from the Warfare Center in Patuxent River, Maryland, became the first aircraft to ”demonstrate the performance of a 50-50 blend of camelina-based biojet fuel and traditional petroleum-based jet fuel at supersonic speeds,” enthuses Renewable Energy World.Com.

At the event, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said: “It’s important to emphasize, especially on Earth Day, the Navy’s commitment to reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as safeguarding our environment. Our Navy, alongside industry, the other services and federal agency partners, will continue to be an early adopter of alternative energy sources.”

Renewable Energy World also reports that the Navy ordered 200,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel for 2009-2010 and has an option to purchase another 200,000 gallons during 2010-2012. Sounds impressive, but let’s put those numbers in perspective. In just three months in peacetime, the flight crew of a single vessel — the USS NASSAU, a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship – flew more than 2,800 hours and burned over 1 million gallons of jet fuel.

Neither Renewable Energy World nor the QDR mentions how much camelina-based jet fuel costs. Hold on to your (toilet) seat! According to today’s ClimateWire [June 28, 2010; subscription required] the price is $65.00 per gallon. That’s about 30 times more expensive than commercial jet fuel.

Those who wonder why government can’t just mandate a transition to a “beyond petroleum” future should contemplate those numbers.

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