Recent criticisms of the U.S. military’s long-term investment in advanced biofuels, which are sourced from non-edible plants like grass and algae, fail to take into consideration the sacrifices of the men and women serving in uniform across the globe. America’s reliance on foreign oil creates unnecessary strategic risks and we have a responsibility to solve this problem. We must, as a nation, set a consistent path to achieve energy security. Fortunately, the United States can rely on past experience in ramping up new technologies that are vital to our national security.
The Department of Defense is the single largest fuel consumer in the United States. And just like other consumers, the Pentagon is paying more at the pump. For every $1 increase in world oil prices, DoD’s fuel costs rise by $30 million. But while consumers can find ways to use less fuel, the DoD can’t. In fact, current U.S. military operations are demanding more and more energy, as the Pentagon seeks to protect troops with more heavily armored equipment.
Protecting oil supply lines is hazardous duty. The current situation in the Strait of Hormuz, where the Navy is keeping the sea lanes open for Persian Gulf oil tankers, is a stark reminder that our nation’s reliance on foreign oil puts our sailors in harm’s way. At the same time, we’ve already seen the U.S. military forced to shift its budget to pay for skyrocketing fuel costs. In 2011, the Pentagon saw a 26 percent increase in fuel costs from the previous year. To pay this unplanned higher cost, the DoD had to shift $3.6 billion in its annual budget, which came at the cost of new, better equipment and training for our troops.
Because the United States is so reliant on foreign oil, we are effectively allowing other countries to determine whether we build ships and planes and how much training our troops receive. We would never rely on those other countries to build vital military equipment or train our troops. Nevertheless, the U.S. military’s demand for petroleum fuel contributes to funding our potential adversaries’ armies and the terrorist groups associated with some of the most deplorable regimes in the world.
We can solve this problem. A domestic advanced biofuels industry producing cost-competitive fuels would directly reduce our reliance on oil and keep U.S. taxpayer dollars at home.
This is by no means unprecedented. The US has responded to other national security challenges in the past to ensure that we maintain a domestic capacity to produce vital materials. President Ronald Reagan recognized the need, and in 1987 the government recognized that a domestic computer chip industry and American competitiveness in computer technology was a national security need. The government formed a research and development consortium of U.S. semiconductor firms, including AMD, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Motorola, NCR, and Texas Instruments. This effort was funded continued through the administration of George H.W. Bush with $500 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
There are additional examples – such as production of aluminum and titanium – where the United States recognized a need, set a policy course and got the job done. In each of these cases, there was also a significant benefit to U.S. consumers over time that made up for the initial costs, such as inexpensive computer chips and aluminum for food packaging.
Today, advanced biofuels may cost more than petroleum. But as oil prices continue to rise and investment in biofuels technology continues to advance, there will be a time in the not-so-distant-future when advanced biofuels cost less than petroleum and will reduce our reliance on foreign oil.
Ensuring our national security, equipping and training our troops for when they are put in harm’s way, and cutting off the flow of funding to our potential enemies are the best reasons to continue development of advanced biofuels. Our military’s readiness ought not to be subject to steadily increasing oil prices and the whims of hostile nations. We must stay the course with the military’s long-term commitment to advanced biofuels.