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Navy BioFuels Program is Just 5% Over Carbon Neutral

Swwtchgrass-Based Biofuels are just 5% Over Carbon-Neutral
Swwtchgrass-Based Biofuels are just 5% Over Carbon-Neutral

The US Military is heavily involved in technology to assure US independence, which includes biofuels and other alternatives.

The thing is, if any one country has a hold on a key commodity, such as fuel, then all they need to do to maintain control, even of a country more powerful, is to restrict fuel supplies. OPEC cut off oil supplies in the 1970s and the US went into a recession. Cut off oil supplies in a military engagement and a country could essentially immobilize a fleet that runs off those supplies. Think of a siege in ancient times. Cut off the food and water supply and starve them until they’re a little more docile.

The US military doesn’t want to be under some oil baron’s heel, so what better to do than eliminate the need for petroleum in the fleet. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL], for example, is taking the lead in researching biofuels for the US Navy. A process, developed by Cobalt Technologies, using proprietary microorganisms and natural fermentation to break down switchgrass into biobutanol, which the Navy can then convert into biojetfuel.

All in all, the processes assure a nearly carbon-neutral biofuel, emitting just 5% more carbon dioxide than sequestered in the switchgrass. The program is still in trial stages, and “the results of testing will help determine whether the process is ready for commercial scale. If so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense are poised to help private firms build the huge biorefineries that would be needed.”

Many technologies perfected for military application eventually trickle down to the private sector. The US Navy biofuels program, if successful, could have multiple benefits, including a more energy-independent military, more jobs in the biofuels sector, and better infrastructure for biofuels here in the US. Not to mention a 95% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

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  1. Sorry, Benji, but you’re pushing propaganda for the man instead of facts and science.  The Cobalt cellulosic biobutanol process has a net negative energy balance, which means the product has less energy than the inputs.  Energy from outside sources, mostly fossil fuel energy, must be pumped into the lifecycle process of cultivating and harvesting and processing and converting switchgrass to biobutanol.  When all the greenhouse gas emissions are counted across the full lifecycle in accordance with PAS 2050 and ISO 14067 standards, the net greenhouse gas emissions are much higher, not lower.  And that just gets you to n-butanol, which is a potential diesel fuel additive, not a fuel.
    The conversion of  Cobalt n-butanol into “drop-in” hydrocarbon biojet fuel is about a 28-step process that takes months to accomplish in a very expensive process.  The Department of Transportation paid UOP $1.1 million in 2011 to make 100 gallons of jet fuel ($11,000 a gallon).  The Navy paid Albemarle $4,454.55 a gallon in February 2012 to deliver 55 gallons of jet fuel from 100 gallons of Cobalt n-butanol after 90 days of processing.  Neither of those prices include the cost of making the biobutanol from wood or switchgrasss in the first place.  Alcohol feedstock is so far the most expensive possible way to make true hydrocarbon fuel yet pursued.  It makes even algae look good.

    • CliffClaven apparently you don’t know how to read. I said 5% over neutral. 5% UNDER neutral would be impossible. Can’t get more energy out of a system than you put into it.


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