Friday, October 01, 2010


Greening the Military

By Henry Curtis

At several conferences held this year in Hawai`i the military has detailed its plan to convert from fossil fuel to renewable and alternative energy. The military is teaming up with commercial airlines and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research and develop alternative fuels.

A navy jet fighter powered by biofuels was designated the Green Hornet. The current nuclear and biofuel powered fleet will be called the Great Green Fleet. Naval armadas will be called Green Strike Groups.

Petroleum is currently used in commercial aviation, commercial marine transport, ground transport, and in Florida and Hawai`i for electricity generation. The federal government accounts for less than 2% of petroleum consumption in the U.S. Virtually all of the federal government’s purchase of petroleum is for the military (92%).

The U.S. military in Hawai`i uses about 128 million gallons of petroleum per year. The fuel is of three principal types: JP8 jet fuel (79 million gallons), F76 marine fuel (42 million gallons) and JP5 jet fuel (7 million gallons).

Electricity can be produced from numerous sources including solar, wind and wave. Airplanes and large ships must be powered by petroleum or biofuel. Thus if one wanted to use biofuels, it makes sense to save it for aircraft and ships.

But Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has proposed using biofuels for electricity generation. HECO is willing to pay a premium, and state regulators have approved paying the premium although the price is confidential. The military will not pay a premium for biofuels.

Navy Times (October 16, 2009): Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that the navy currently uses nuclear power and biofuels for 17% of its energy needs, and this should increase to 50% by 2020.

Sarah Bittleman from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak's office stated that Hawaii’s growing conditions are similar to the Gulf States and therefore Hawai`i is considered part of the Southeast.

The USDA Biofuels Strategic Production Report (June 23, 2010) believes that biofuel crops grown in the Southeast and Hawaii will be soybean, sugar cane, biomass sorghum, perennial grasses, and woody biomass. The Report states that “Hawaii, Florida, Georgia and Texas are the largest consumers of petroleum in the region.”

To handle all the new biofuel crops grown in the U.S. the Report states that private entities will have to finance and build 527 biorefineries, at a cost of $168 billion.

In June 2010 the military published a request for information (RFI): “The Government seeks to identify responsible potential sources and obtain information regarding possible suppliers of bio-derived alternative fuel for aviation purposes, and potentially for marine diesel, for delivery to various locations in the state of Hawaii.” The goal of the RFI is to identify ways the Hawai`i military can replace ¼ of its fuel with Hawai`i grown and produced biofuels.

The Navy favors fuels that can be used without modifying equipment currently in use. To them, the source of the biofuels is irrelevant.

At recent Hawai`i energy, agriculture and biofuel conferences, many speakers spoke of the challenges facing Hawai`i. We do not know what type of fuel will be grown, where it will be grown, by whom, converted to biofuel using what process, where the biorefineries will be located, and how the locally grown and produced biofuel will compete against cheap imports.

In Hawai`i we do not know where the labor and water will come from, and how to offset the rising cost of fertilizer.

Hamakua farmer Richard Ha has done the math and suggests that the price that bioenergy crops would go for to make reasonably priced biofuel is 7 cents per pound. Food crops would sell for far more and thus be more profitable that bioenergy crops. If somehow there were a switch in the relative value of bioenergy versus food crops, then the issue of “food versus fuel” would pop up.

Hawaii Island cattle rancher Alan Gottlieb suggested that land be leased to HECO, and that they hire their own labor to make themselves some biofuel.

The State of Biofuels

The prices are secret, the military and the State don’t agree, everybody wants to move forward, and no one knows what crop, what conversion process, and how it’s all going to be done.

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Henry Curtis can be contacted at


The US Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest oil consuming government body in the US and in the world

“Military fuel consumption makes the Department of Defense the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S” [1]

“Military fuel consumption for aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and facilities makes the DoD the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S” [2]

By the way, 144 million barrels makes 395 000 barrels per day, almost as much as daily energy consumption of Greece.

The US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world.

Looked this up real quick, so this greening of the military is a good thing.

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