Worth Remembering

The Center for a New American Security reminds us what renewable fuels mean for the future
By Luke Geiver | November 17, 2010
It's no secret that if the U.S. military can be fueled, so can just about anything that needs fueling. For petroleum providers working with the U.S. Department of Defense and its large supply of aircraft, ground vehicles, ships and weapons systems, life has been pretty good. Nearly 77 percent of all fuel needs for the DOD comes from petroleum, which is no surprise. Think things are going to change? A quick look at the life span of a typical military vehicle, fighter jet or submarine and their fueling requirements, for instance, might suggest the status quo is here to stay, but numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicate that the DOD may have no choice but to integrate renewable fuels like biodiesel.

According to the EIA, world energy demands will increase from a 2007 level of 495.2 quadrillion Btu all the way to 738.7 quadrillion Btu by 2035. Global petroleum use in 1980 called for roughly 63 million barrels of oil per day. Today the U.S. consumes more than 85 million barrels per day and, if trends remain unchanged, by 2035 global demand will equal 110.6 million gallons per day. If you haven't heard, global oil reserves are shrinking as well. So what should we do? A team from the Center for a New American Security went looking for an answer. Here's what they found.

In a report titled, "Fueling the Future: Preparing the Department of Defense for a Post-Petroleum Era," Christine Parthemore, fellow at CNAS, and John Nagl, president, pointed out what many have been touting for some time: "It is not prudent to assume that supplies will be readily available to the United States three decades hence; nor is it wise to perpetuate the geopolitical, operational and environmental costs indefinitely." Ensuring that the DOD can function on nonpetroleum fuels in 30 years, they say, is a conservative approach to hedge against economic, political and environmental constraints of the future.

The goal of instituting renewable fuels, according to the report, should receive immediate attention and represent the main path forward. "Other goals debated in recent years, including a goal of simply increasing the efficiency of petroleum use or a static reduction in overall fuel consumption, will be insufficient." They note that since the 1970s, America's energy efficiency has grown, but, not surprisingly, so has overall petroleum demand. "Gains in efficiency are necessary and important," they say, "but there is a danger that too heavy a focus on efficiency over a long-term timescale will mask an increasing reliance on petroleum." While reports like these reaffirm what many already know, this particular report points out something worth remembering. If the DOD implements a change towards renewable fuels, it can avoid unbearable fuel costs while guaranteeing its ability to protect the U.S., the report says, "regardless of the availability of petroleum-based fuels."
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