WASHINGTON - The Air Force on Thursday dropped plans to build a coal-to-liquid plant that could have been built at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, one of three U.S. Air Force bases that maintain and operate the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
The plant was to produce fuel for Air Force aircraft, a plan that would've reduced dependence on oil but increased the emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.
The Air Force has a goal to certify that all aircraft could fly on a 50-50 blend of fuel by 2011. It's been purchasing fuel made from coal from Sasol of South Africa, most recently 300,000 gallons, said Air Force spokesman Gary Strasburg.
The B-1, B-52 and C-17 already have been certified to run on the coal-mix blend, and the F-15, F-22, C-5 and KC-135 all have also used the blend, Strasburg said.
The Air Force is looking for alternatives to oil to make sure that it can continue to operate its aircraft when supplies are tight. The coal-to-liquid conversion process, however, is expensive to set up, and there are no full-scale plants in the U.S.
Liquid fuel from coal produces more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional petroleum-based fuel.
The Air Force for the past year had been considering building the plant at Malmstrom, one of three U.S. Air Force bases that maintain and operate the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
The service had required that the coal-to-liquid plant be privately funded, according to an Air Force news release on Thursday.
The Air Force rejected the plans for the coal-to-liquids plant because of possible conflicts with the 341 Missile Wing's nuclear mission. The release said the concerns included decreased security near the base's weapons storage area, interference with missile transportation and "explosive safety arcs and operational flight safety issues."
Strasburg said he couldn't comment on whether there were economic or environmental concerns until after all participants in the original plan were briefed. The Air Force Real Property Agency had submitted a plan for the plant in February 2008.
A 2007 energy law requires that federal agencies not purchase fuels with greater greenhouse gas emissions than
conventional petroleum fuels.