U.S. military takes steps to address climate change; buys renewable jet fuel from Montana source

2010-04-20T16:45:00Z U.S. military takes steps to address climate change; buys renewable jet fuel from Montana sourceMIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
April 20, 2010 4:45 pm  • 

HELENA — The U.S. military is revamping its own energy consumption to deal with the threat of climate change, according to a report released Tuesday.

That includes purchasing biofuels from a Montana-grown source.

“We think that this is one of America’s big strategic imperatives, to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuel, to become better war-fighters and to get us better down the road of energy independence,” said Ray Mabus, the U.S. secretary of the Navy.

Mabus spoke with reporters at a telephone news conference from Washington, D.C., on a report released by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.

The report outlined how the U.S. armed forces have set aggressive goals for reducing their overall energy consumption and switching from fossil fuels to alternative, renewable fuels.

“The military is doing much, much more than sounding the alarm (on climate change),” said Phyllis Cuttino, director’s of Pew’s climate and energy program. “They are marching out to re-energize America’s future.”

One of the military’s many efforts involves using biofuel to power the Navy’s F-18 Hornet fighter jet, which will make its first demonstration flight with biofuel on Thursday, which is Earth Day.

The Hornet will be burning a 50-50 blend of traditional jet fuel and fuel processed from camelina grown in northern Montana.

Sustainable Oils, which has offices in Bozeman, won a contract last year to supply this biofuel to the Navy and the Air Force. The contract could run through at least 2012, said Mike Waring, a regional sales manager for Sustainable Oils based in Great Falls.

Sustainable Oils has contracted with growers in north-central and northeast Montana for 6,000 acres of camelina, and most of its product goes toward producing biofuel for the military, Waring said.

Camelina is an oilseed crop from the mustard family. The Montana crop is being crushed at a Great Falls plant, which produces the seed oil, which is then processed and refined in Iowa and Texas into jet fuel.

Waring said all 14 commercial U.S. airlines also have expressed interest in purchasing camelina-based fuel and that a new refinery is planned near Seattle.

“It’s a great deal for the farmers of Montana and the region, because our acreage is going to grow,” he said. “It has a half-a-million acres potential. … This thing could create crushing facilities in Montana, it could create a whole lot of different things that could shoot off this camelina business. It’s really exciting.”

The Pew report noted that U.S. defense officials have concluded that global climate change can create political instability by affecting water supplies, agriculture, storm intensity and human migration.

When also considering the dangers of supplying military operations with fuel and policing volatile areas that supply fossil fuel, the military decided it only makes sense to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, the report said.

All branches of the military have set specific goals of reducing their energy consumption and moving away from fossil fuels. The Navy, for example, has a goal to make 50 percent of its entire fuel consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

The Navy launched a hybrid gas turbine-electric amphibious assault ship last fall, the U.S.S. Makin Island, which will save $250 million in fuel costs over its lifespan, Mabus said.

“The Navy has always led in energy change,” Mabus said, noting that it switched from sails to coal-fired power in the 1850s, from coal to oil in the early 1900s and from oil to nuclear in some vessels in the 1950s. “Every single time we did that, there were people who said we were taking proven technology and trading it for an unproven one, and (putting the operations at risk). Every single time they were wrong.”

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