Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rand: No direct benefit from US military development of alternate fuels

If the US military were to continue investing in alternate fuel development, researchers see no mission-specific, direct benefit to the nation’s armed forces, Rand Corp. concluded. The US Department of Defense asked the nonprofit research group to study the potential of alternate fuels for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Rand researchers recommend the DOD and Congress reconsider whether defense appropriations should support the development of advanced alternate fuel technologies.

“The Department of Defense consumes more fuel than any other federal agency, but military fuel demand is only a very small fraction of civilian demand, and civilian demand is what drives competition, innovation, and production,” said James Bartis, study author and Rand senior policy researcher.

The Rand study identified liquid fuel produced via the Fischer-Tropsch process as the most promising option for affordably and cleanly meeting military fuel specifications. With carbon dioxide capture, the study found Fischer-Tropsch fuels made from a mix of coal and biomass generate lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are less than half of petroleum-based fuels.

The military has invested in advanced technology to produce jet fuel from algae-derived oils. But Rand researchers said algae-derived fuel is more a research topic rather than an emerging option with which the military can run its operations.

Most of DOD’s efforts in alternate fuel development has been geared toward providing technical viability rather than establishing a process that yields affordable, environmentally sound fuel production, Rand said.

The US Department of Energy already knows about how hard it is demonstrate affordable, environmentally sound production. DOE has experienced this from its efforts in fuel cell and solar photovoltaic technology development, Rand researchers noted.

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