Smart investing and less reliance on petroleum-based fuels will help ensure an agile, lethal and adaptable combat force, and ultimately, national security, a senior Pentagon official said here today during an Energy Department-hosted conference.
During “Biomass 2012: Confronting Challenges, Creating Opportunities – Sustaining a Commitment to Bioenergy,” Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, called biofuels and alternative fuels “sustainable and reliable” ways the United States can accomplish the defense mission.
“Energy security is about international stability and prosperity and that is fundamentally an issue of national security,” Burke said. “We’re looking for fuels that are compatible with our existing equipment and storage infrastructure and a cost-competitive alternative fuels market.”
Although accounting for less than 1 percent of all domestic energy use, the Defense Department remains the single largest consumer of energy in the nation, Burke said.
“Last year, our energy bills totaled $20 billion and we consumed about 5 billion gallons of petroleum,” she explained, adding that 75 percent of DOD’s consumption is operational energy required for training, moving and sustaining military equipment and weapons.
“The department is going to have ships, planes and vehicles that were designed to use petroleum fuels for a very long time to come,” Burke said. “[Alternative fuels] investment ensures our equipment can operate on a wide range of fuels, and that’s important for our readiness over the long term.” Burke also noted the DOD’s long history of innovation and the role bioenergy will play in future missions.
“Hydrogen-powered unmanned aerial vehicles have the potential to achieve much longer mission durations than those that are powered by traditional petroleum-based products, … and the department is interested in technologies that can generate fuel or energy at a tactical location.”
“The Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines have all recognized the vulnerability of our singular dependence on petroleum,” Burke said. “They’ve all taken a first step toward a different future by certifying their equipment to operate on a range of alternative fuels, … and that certification activity is really important.”
Burke said her office coordinated with the services and key defense agencies to form an alternative fuels policy for operational platforms.
“It articulates the defense interest in alternative fuels to ensure operational military readiness, improve battlespace effectiveness and further flexibility of military operations through the ability to use multiple, reliable fuel sources,” she said.
The policy also establishes clear guidelines for future investment in alternative fuels for testing and certification activities, field demonstrations and bulk purchases to meet operational requirements beyond those certification and demonstration activities.
“With this policy in place, … we will definitely continue to have a strong commitment to alternative fuels to enhance the capability of the joint force,” she said.
Burke said the issue isn’t whether or when biofuels will trump petroleum in terms of price and availability. Rather, she said, it’s whether the United States will be primed for viable alternatives.
“Today we have to keep investing in the legacy economy because our global prosperity depends on it,” she said. “We will have the energy we need to defend the American people, [and] I believe … alternative fuels will be an important part of that future.”