As the Defense Department’s largest gas-guzzler, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has challenged the biofuels industry to meet their production needs of several hundred million gallons of alternative fuels by 2016. In an effort to help wean the USAF off foreign oil, 50-50 blends of jet and synthetic fuels have been approved for flight. However, while the air force consumes around 2.5 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, the expected surge in demand in upcoming years will be considerably huge.
The success of the USAF’s ability to make the switch is entirely up to the industry. They type of alternative fuels can come from a broad range of sources, but they must be developed domestically, cost competitive with petroleum, and have greenhouse gas emission of equal or less impact than those of oil. The mid-decade goal of aquiring half of the service’s annual fuel through alternative blends will amount to 400 million gallons by 2016. Since that kind of production is going to require infrastructure and time, officials are prompting the industry now to stimulate competition.
Thus far, the USAF’s aircraft fleet has approved the use of coal- and natural gas-derived synthetic fuels, while other green fuels continue to be tested. In March, President Obama took notice of the first-ever successsful biofuel-powered test flight during a speech on Energy Security at Joint Base Andrews. Hours of research both within the USAF and from experts in the field outside the government are developing cutting-edge technology in great confidence that their goals will be met by the expected deadline.
This year, $6.7 billion was spent on aviation fuel for the USAF alone, accounting for more than half of the oil consumption by all US government agencies. While the military only represents about 2 percent of the U.S. petroleum market, these developments will most likely drive market trends in the country’s largest oil user, the commercial aviation industry, according to deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy Tom Hicks in a report from the nonprofit Rand Corp. to Congress a couple weeks ago.
The American military possesses strong purchasing power that can significantly drive market realities and increase the country’s overall chances of developing new biofuels in large quantities. These major developments in energy and fuel sources within the government are not only setting an example for civilians, but provoking the country to step up to the challenge and innovate. This form of competition instituted under the USAF will significantly impact the future of fuel efficiency in the upcoming decade, especially as we start to see commercial airlines following suit.