RAND questions the Navy’s push towards alternative fuels citing problems with the initiative.

There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels.
 

 Defense Department technology-development efforts overemphasize early demonstration and underestimate the difficulty of developing alternative fuel technologies that offer acceptable economic and environmental performance.

If Defense Department efforts in alternative fuel testing, research, and promoting early commercial production are successful, the benefits of this work will accrue more to the nation as a whole rather than to DoD or the services.
 

Large-scale testing and certification of hydrotreated renewable oils is premature.
 

“Unfortunately, we were not engaged by the authors of this report,” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy. “We don’t believe they adequately engaged the market,” he said, adding, “This is not up to RAND’s standards.”

Why do I get the feeling that this point counterpoint is so much like the criticisms of optimal manning, Sea Swap, and the host of other initiatives that were more flash than bang through the past decade.

There are lots of things we can do to try and reduce the usage of fossil fuels and reduce the need for convoys that carry them through hostile regions…but with limited resources perhaps it’s time to spend more money on conservation with proven technologies (LED lighting, solar power, reduction in electronics usage forward and so on) than in trying to develop the technologies themselves.

Industry will do research and development when there is a profit incentive. DoD should not be the one generating that incentive.




Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Uncategorized


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  • Andy

    Remember that DARPA and ONR have often taken the lead in developing crucial capabilities – unmanned vehicles, satellites, radar systems, and communications. Alternative energy may not have the obvious national security ties that radar and secure comms do, but that doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands until industry makes developments available (at a higher cost).

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Andy. No. Don’t agree at all. Read the report.

    As for DARPA and ONR – their successes for the actual fielding of technology are far behind them. I can’t think of a single thing they have fielded that has directly impacted the Navy in almost a decade.

  • Tom Goering

    The Secretary’s office was not engaged, but a couple commands were according to the report; “During the course of this study, meetings were held with representatives of the following DoD organizations:
    [edited list to show Navy organizations]
    • Office of the Director, Fleet Readiness Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
    • Sea Warfare and Weapons Department, Office of Naval Research
    • Propulsion and Power Engineering, Naval Air Systems Command”

  • USNVO

    I have to disagree as well. While I think the idea of a Green Hornet or a green Strike Group is largely hype, the idea that we shouldn’t test new fuels as soon as possible is just plain wrong. DoD has a huge requirement for fuels that I will call infinitely compatible. Fuels that can be mixed in any ratio without worry of the source, without changing the basic composition and characteristics of the fuel, and without long term effects different than existing fuels. Kind of like we have now with DFM, JP-5, and JP-8 from various sources. It would seem that we have a testing program to prove the various sources of fuel are compatible, somewhat over hyped, but basically a long term test program to prove the compatibility of the fuel.

    as to the RAND conclusions,
    1. “There is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels.”
    True, as long as we have fuel, from whatever source, all is OK. However, notice how they carefully specified direct benefit. Indirectly, any increase in total supply of fuel and variety of sources of fuel available for use by DoD is to our benefit. Even if we never buy any of the products in large quantity, if the alternate fuels displace petroleum jet A1 in commercial use that we can then turn into JP-8 for our use, we still win. since DoD is the biggest user of petroleum in the US Government, and has the most unique applications for the product, then DoD should be working on it. “Directly” the strategic bombing campaign of WWII was a failure. Go beyond first order effects and it was critical to the allied victory.

    2. “Defense Department technology-development efforts overemphasize early demonstration and underestimate the difficulty of developing alternative fuel technologies that offer acceptable economic and environmental performance.”
    Also true, if your aim is to develop a supply of fuel. But DoD is largely in the game of demonstrating that the technology works for DoD equipment under all conditions, and not trying to develop a supply for our own use. We are proving we can use biofuels, from a variety of sources, as if they were petroleum derived fuels. If buying the fuel for that makes it a little easier for them to commercialize the process, so much the better but that is not the goal of the programs.

    3. “If Defense Department efforts in alternative fuel testing, research, and promoting early commercial production are successful, the benefits of this work will accrue more to the nation as a whole rather than to DoD or the services.”
    So what! Same indirect benefit as described in 1. above. We still benefit, since when the country benefits, so does DoD.

    4. “Large-scale testing and certification of hydrotreated renewable oils is premature.” Why? If it can be compatible with our needs now, we should test it. And if early testing helps ensure the ultimate product works for us, so much the better. If it doesn’t meet our needs, we will know right up front.

    As to your points,

    1. “Why do I get the feeling that this point counterpoint is so much like the criticisms of optimal manning, Sea Swap, and the host of other initiatives that were more flash than bang through the past decade.”
    True, the hype feels the same but… as taught at the Naval War College, when trying to institute change in a large organization, you start with a small group of true believers, demonstrate the advantages of your product, system, etc through a small and realistic test and being open to things that don’t work, and then expand outward from there. The problem with Sea Swap (although it wasn’t adopted so I am not sure this one fits), optimal manning, revolution in training, etc, was that we presupposed the results and when faced with the reality we ignored it since it didn’t fit our model. This appears different (we are not using the entire fleet for the experiment for one), although the jury is still out.

    2. “There are lots of things we can do to try and reduce the usage of fossil fuels and reduce the need for convoys that carry them through hostile regions…but with limited resources perhaps it’s time to spend more money on conservation with proven technologies (LED lighting, solar power, reduction in electronics usage forward and so on) than in trying to develop the technologies themselves.”
    False choice. We can, should, and are doing both. Additionally, we are not developing a new technology, we are encouraging development and ensuring it meets DoD needs, but mostly we are testing that it will meet our long term needs.

    3. “Industry will do research and development when there is a profit incentive. DoD should not be the one generating that incentive.”
    DoD is not doing any of the development, we are testing that the product of the ongoing development will meet our long term needs. No one started a program to meet DoD needs. If we had a large program that was trying to run the Navy on biofuel, OK, you have a valid point. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the goal. We have a moderate program that appears to have the goal of making sure that the products developed by industry to replace petroleum based fuel is compatible with DoD equipment. I’m good with that, as long as we keep the true believers in line down the road, and we do not focus solely on any one technology.

  • Mittleschmerz

    USNVO – you do a nice point/counterpoint of my post. Did you read the RAND report?

  • USNVO

    I did, including all the supporting documentation. I don’t totally disagree with them, they make some very good points:
    1. A lot of this really sounds a lot like DOE stuff. Which is true, but since DoD is the biggest user of petroleum and the biggest impacted from price changes, it is not unexpected that we have a role. However, we should have extremely close coordination with other agencies so that we don’t duplicate effort. I am not sure that is being done.
    2. It is silly, by itself, to try to make fuel on site with portable systems. However, as RAND indicates, as a waste management system, that just happens to give you fuel as a side benefit, it makes all kinds of sense. Who hasn’t wished that there was a way to eliminate the whole plastic waste problem on a ship or at forward bases. If you get a little JP-5 or JP-8 out of it as well, great, but just let me get rid of the stinking (literally) plastic waste and I am happy.
    3. FTP systems are closer to being ready. Can’t argue with that but the very fact that they are closer to reality today doesn’t mean we should invest in them, they have the most commercial capital invested as well. Invest in the higher risk, higher payoff stuff. RAND admitted that DARPA funding appeared to greatly speed up the introduction of hydrotreated renewable oils. Ultimately it may not be what we want but we already knew FTP would work, now we know the other one does too.

    Don’t get me wrong, conservation is great and should be a priority. Things like insolating tents in a near permenant site is just so common sense as to be criminal that no one thought of it earlier. I also think we need to watch the people running these programs like hawks to ensure they don’t get out of control. We need to ensure we don’t lose focus on why we have the programs in the first place and don’t let it morph into something it shouldn’t be. Our goal should be to maximize (by testing and certification) potential fuel sources for the US military and not to save the environment. But nothing I have seen to date leads me to believe we are losing sight of what is important, although the hype is pretty over the top some time.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Thanks USNVO – I think we are more in agreement than disagreement.

    Most of the “waste” in the USG would go away if people looked at it more like “my money” and less like “my rich uncles’ money”.

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