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At a time when Congress is looking to cut the budget, the DoD is pleading for $517M USD in extra funding to keep up with the soaring costs of crude oil.  (Source: Tatan Syuflana/AP)

Without extra funding, the U.S. Air Force could be grounded and unable to defend the nation.  (Source: USAF)

The U.S. DoD is hoping that biofuels will hold the key to safe, cheap fuel in the long term.  (Source: California Polytechnic State University's Controlled Environment Agriculture & Energy Working Group)
Soaring gas prices have hit defense budgets, and served as a reminder of the volatility of oil

Between Iraq and Afghanistan alone, the U.S. Department of Defense needed an enormous amount of fuel last year -- the U.S. government uses 20 to 50 million gallons of fuel every month in Afghanistan to support operations. In fact, of the $15B USD it spent on fuel, 75 percent went towards operations, such as the efforts in these Middle Eastern nations.  

I. Massive Demand, Soaring Costs

The thirstiest branch of the armed forces was the U.S. Air Force (USAF).  They used $8.1B USD in fuel, including $7B USD in costs for jet fuel.  The USAF burned through 54 percent of the DoD's fuel budget, sipping 2.5 billion gallons of fuel.

The aforementioned figures come courtesy of Air Force assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics Terry Yonkers.  Speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, Asst. Secretary Yonkers expressed alarm at rising fuel costs and the impact they might have on the nation's ability to defend itself.

At a time when Congress is looking to slash the budget, the DoD is requesting an injection of $517M USD in extra cash to keep up with rising oil prices.  According to the request, the price per barrel of oil rose from $127.26 in April to $165.90 by June 1.

In reality, that $517M USD will likely not be nearly enough to cover the 30 percent higher costs, considering that 30 percent of last year's budget totaled almost $5B USD.  But facing a cuts-minded Congress, that may be the best the DoD can hope for. 

The DoD is running on empty and desperately needs a solution in the long term to secure the nation in the face of continually rising fuel costs.  Asst. Secretary Yonkers believes the answer lies in biofuels, like algae-based oil.  Currently biofuels are quite expensive, costing $40 to $50 USD per gallon.  Given that there's about 45 gallons of petroleum products in a barrel of crude oil, petroleum was at approximately $3.69 USD/gallon, or roughly 1/11th of the cost of biofuel.

However, as biofuel production ramps up, costs are expected to greatly decline.  Asst. Secretary Yonkers greets that possibility with optimism, stating, "If they'll produce it, we'll buy it."

II. Biofuels v. Domestic Drilling

New biofuels like algae have an advantage over other alternative fuels like ethanol, in that they contain the larger hydrocarbons necessary for jet fuel and other high-energy blends.  In that regard, they're quite similar to petroleum products.  Because of that, 98 percent of the USAF's aircraft can run on a biofuel blend (though the allowed amount of biofuel in the blend is application-dependent).

One obstacle is that while the DoD commands a substantial stake in the U.S. fuel market, it's still a small player in terms of total demand.  Last year it reportedly accounted for 2 percent of the nation's fuel budget.  That is a large amount, but it also represents how much the DoD needs the other 98 percent, which includes civilian and corporate use, to support biofuel development.

In the short term, the U.S. could look to domestic drilling options to try to drop fuel prices.  However, there are issues there too.  Most "easy" fuel in the U.S. has already been extracted -- much of the remaining fuel requires complex extraction procedures.

Some studies indicate that extraction from oil shales and their ilk can be done safely, with minimal environmental impact.  But as NPR's "This American Life" points out, this research is often biased by the fact that top petroleum research universities are dependent on petroleum grants for funding and are afraid to publish negative studies.

The actual impact of domestic drilling may be significantly higher than the oil and gas companies would wish the public to believe, as evidenced by recent environmental damage in Appalachian rivers, and the recent earthquakes that struck Arkansas when natural gas injection wells appeared to disturb local fault lines.

On the other hand, there may be cases where the costs outweigh the benefits, and domestic drilling makes sense.  After all, environmentalists often paint an equally biased picture, albeit with less financial resources.  The truth, as is typical in such debates, likely lies in the middle.

At the end of the day, though America faces the real issue that its domestic petroleum supply is a finite product and will run out -- sooner or later.  That leaves America dependent on foreign oil, which is volatile both in price and in politics.

The tough question is what to replace the oil with.  

III. The Long Term View

Biofuels seem an attractive alternative, given that they only require sunlight, typically (as most are plant based) and can produce high-octane fuel blends resembling petroleum products.  Further, these blends typically are cleaner, with less sulfides and nitrides than typical petroleum fuel.

Of course the DoD could also look to nuclear fission power, combined with EVs to greatly reduce its transportation related fuel consumption in the short term.  Such a suggestion might have trouble flying in nuclear fearful America, though.

In the long run fusion may also provide a possible alternative energy source for defense transportation.  But the problem of energy storage is likely to remain for some time.  Unless researchers can develop a fusion reactor small enough to fit in a jet, or a battery vastly more energy-dense than today's designs, the only solution is a chemical fuel.  And the choice for chemical fuel today are pretty much oil, ethanol, or biofuels.

The DoD thinks biofuels are the most attractive of those choices to use in defending the United States.



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RE: I have a crazy idea
By Reclaimer77 on 7/11/2011 3:18:07 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The three worst offenders (under-inflated tires, incorrect wheel alignment and missing or incorrectly fastened gas caps) are cheap and easy to fix and several estimates put the savings at 620 million gallons per year just for the US alone.


AHAHAHAA

The only one seriously claiming that is Obama. You sound just like him. "uuhhh why drill when we can inflate our tires".

Your numbers are only accurate if all growth were to completely halt. But that's not going to happen. Energy demands go up year after year. We simply cannot inflate our tires and gas-cap our way out of this.

quote:
Heck, missing gas caps alone were responsible for the waste of 150 million gallons of fuel to evaporation.


LOL! I would really like to see how in the world you could possibly accurately estimate something like that. The Government tracks everyone's gas-cap now?


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Iaiken on 7/11/2011 4:45:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
We simply cannot inflate our tires and gas-cap our way out of this.


Where again did I say this was the only solution? I seem to remember saying something along the lines of: "Neither is sole solution nor are they [efficiency or conservation] the combined solution, but are part of a wider complex solution that aims to stretch limited supplies and reducing expenses by reducing waste." In fact, that is pretty much the exact caveat that I posted before citing specific primary culprits of fuel waste.

Again, you'll be an absolutist to the end and it's a pity because you're just not going to find a single miracle fix to the energy woes of America. Nor do you seem to have a healthy respect for the power of laziness/ignorance in aggregate except for when the government involved, then it's an evil that must be vanquished.

quote:
LOL! I would really like to see how in the world you could possibly accurately estimate something like that. The Government tracks everyone's gas-cap now?


Source: Service Tech Magazine, Sept. 2000
quote:
17 percent of the vehicles on U.S. highways have either misused or missing gas caps, causing 147,000,000 gallons of gas per year to vaporize into the atmosphere.


The 2000 study involved some 4300+ US dealerships and service centers over the course of one year that reported on missing or misused gas caps. This figure may actually be higher as unchecked cars were assumed to have gas caps and that they were properly fastened. Can't seem to find the entire study on the web, but it's a very interesting read.

A 2004 SUNOCO study found that a missing gas cap allows an average 199 lbs of gasoline (or 33 US gallons) to evaporate into the atmosphere. That is an average loss of $119.79 (using the current national yearly average of about $3.631/gallon). The average cost of an OEM gas cap is around $11 (or $14 if you a have a fancy one with a lock/key).

Source:
http://www.sunocoinc.com/nr/rdonlyres/12edbc06-a6b...


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Reclaimer77 on 7/11/2011 6:38:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Again, you'll be an absolutist to the end and it's a pity because you're just not going to find a single miracle fix to the energy woes of America.


We're fine with combined solutions. By why is it that tapping our massive domestic resources can never be a part of that "combined solution"? Who's being the absolutist now? Drilling and alternative solutions are always poised against each other as being mutually exclusive when they don't have to be. Use what we can now while also planning for the future. Is that so hard?

I think you people need to come to the realization that crude oil is going to be necessary and vital to our way of life for many decades to come. There is simply NO WAY around that. You also need to be reminded that gasoline is NOT the only thing crude oil is used for.

quote:
The 2000 study involved some 4300+ US dealerships and service centers over the course of one year that reported on missing or misused gas caps.


Not nearly a large enough sample. Myopic. Dismissed.

Again, there will ALWAYS be a segment of the population without perfectly maintained vehicles. No matter what the fuel source that is used. So why even bring it up? You're living in a fantasy land where gas caps and inflated tires are considered part of a solution. You're daft. This is NOT a solution, and it's not part of any combined solution.

Waste is a universal, physical, and economic constant. It cannot be avoided, and it's damned hard to account for accurately. You should accept that and move on.


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Iaiken on 7/11/2011 7:04:37 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
By why is it that tapping our massive domestic resources can never be a part of that "combined solution"?


Where did I say it wasn't? I was just pointing out that there were long term downsides to going drill-crazy.

quote:
Not nearly a large enough sample. Myopic. Dismissed.


Really now? Despite them inspecting an average 3800 different cars each over the coarse of a year for a total of around 16 million cars? They saw around 15% of the cars that were on the road in the country in 2000 and gave the cars that went unchecked the benefit of the doubt and that's not a large enough sample size for you? What the hell is wrong with you? What the hell would YOU say IS an acceptable sample size?

quote:
Waste is a universal, physical, and economic constant. It cannot be avoided


And yet it can be mitigated...

All of the examples I sited have significant long-term economic benefit on both the individual and aggregate levels that vastly outweigh the one-time costs to the individual. I can only wonder how many people would go drop $11 on a new gas cap if they knew it was costing them $100/year?

So the real question is, what is a cost-effective way to educate people on the facts?


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Reclaimer77 on 7/11/2011 7:21:27 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
All of the examples I sited have significant long-term economic benefit on both the individual and aggregate levels that vastly outweigh the one-time costs to the individual.


In theory, yes. But it's like me saying if we could eliminate all government waste, we could be out of this deficit. While it looks good on paper, and sounds cool to say, it's not freaking gonna happen is it?

quote:
So the real question is, what is a cost-effective way to educate people on the facts?


So you think telling people to inflate their tires and check gas caps is going to convince them that they'll actually see a tangible price reduction at the gas pumps? Come on, you know that won't happen even if every car on the planet was in top condition.

Drilling for oil and mitigating foreign oil use WILL have a positive and tangible impact. Your solutions are all theoretical.


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Iaiken on 7/11/2011 8:05:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Drilling for oil and mitigating foreign oil use WILL have a positive and tangible impact.


Actually no, the solution is still only theoretical and the last time it was tried, it had zero appreciable impact.

Dr. Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado has demonstrated that the procured oil is steadily on a downward trend even with provisions for an equal amount of undiscovered oil to that we have ever used. He also demonstrated that the previous tapping of the Alaskan pipeline as a function of production vs. consumption vs price and all it did was allow for an increase in consumption and the rate of production ultimately declined to it's previous trend and the price continued up on it's historical 7.07% trend the entire time in spite of the increased availability because it was more expensive to procure.

So there is likely no proven positive and tangible impact to be had...


RE: I have a crazy idea
By Reclaimer77 on 7/11/11, Rating: 0
"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer














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