The Pentagon has signaled to industry that as soon as the price of biofuels drops, the U.S. military services will be eager to buy them, according to defense officials.
"We are ready and eager to use this fuel," Terry Yonkers, Air Force assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics, said July 7 in a speech at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington.
According to Yonkers, 98 percent of the Air Force's fleet is certified to fly on blended fuel.
"If they'll produce it, we'll buy it," he said.
But so far, biofuels are unaffordable.
Currently, biofuels cost $40 to $50 a gallon, according to Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment. Such alternative fuels are still in the research and development stages, but when industry eventually begins mass production, the costs should go down, she said.
While the Pentagon is eager to start using the new fuels, the military alone will not provide enough demand to create an industry, said Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs.
The military services can drive energy innovation, but the Defense Department only makes up 2 percent of U.S. petroleum use and therefore cannot develop an industry on its own, she told the audience at the Pew event.
The Defense Department is looking to diversify its energy sources partly because the price volatility of conventional jet fuel poses serious budget problems. It leads to enormous unprogrammed costs, Yonkers said.
In the most recent reprogramming request sent to Capitol Hill, the Pentagon asked for roughly $517 million just to cover the rising price of fuel. According to the document, the price per barrel rose from $127.26 to $165.90 on June 1.
Last year, the Air Force spent $8 billion on energy, with $7 billion of that on jet fuel, Yonkers said. The remaining $1.1 billion was spent on energy needs at military installations.
The Air Force consumes 2.5 billion gallons of fuel a year, which equals 54 percent of DoD's energy consumption.
Last year, the Pentagon spent $15 billion on energy; 75 percent of that was operational, Burke said. It is an enormous amount of energy to have to move around the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it creates supply lines that are vulnerable to attack, Burke said.
In Afghanistan, the United States uses 20 million to 50 million gallons of fuel per month, according to Burke.
Former Republican Sen. John Warner, who also spoke at the Pew event, scolded Congress for not doing more on the issue of climate change, and praised DoD for moving much more quickly. He encouraged Congress to support the Pentagon's efforts.
When he served in the Senate, Warner helped create the position now occupied by Burke.