On Monday, the U.S. Navy will officially announce the ships for its demonstration of the “Great Green Fleet” — an entire aircraft carrier strike group powered by biofuels and other eco-friendly energy sources. If a powerful congressional panel has its way, it could be the last time the Navy ever uses biofuels to run its ships and jets.
In its report on next year’s Pentagon budget, the House Armed Services Committee banned the Defense Department from making or buying an alternative fuel that costs more than a “traditional fossil fuel.” It’s a standard that may be almost impossible to meet, energy experts believe; there’s almost no way the tiny, experimental biofuel industry can hope to compete on price with the massive, century-old fossil fuels business.
The greens are up in arms about this but the shouldn’t be. Biofuels cost anywhere from four to ten times as much as fossil fuels. And as I keep saying, price communicates information. In this case, the information that biofuels are inefficient, dirty and environmentally unsound (read Rolling Stone’s article on ethanol here). Moreover, many of the fuels they are using — such as waste grease — are unlikely to be sustainable on a large scales.
There is one thing to complain about: the bill removes the restrictions on alternative fuels that pollute more than traditional fuels, which could open up the dirty methods like Fischer-Tropsch (which Wired, in a remarkable display of journalistic objectivity, reminds us was used by Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa).
But biofuels are simply not ready for prime time. This isn’t “stimulating” an industry to develop. This is corporate welfare designed to prop up dirty inefficiency fuels that can not compete with fossil fuels — let alone nuclear — in efficiency, price or environmental impact.
There are some energy efficiencies the military is finding — using solar power in Aghanistan or software that runs ships more efficiently. But this is simply playing politics and wasting money. End it.