Local view: Premature federal biofuels plan ignores cost, decades of failuresThe administration’s latest energy boondoggle is properly being challenged by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who serves most of western Minnesota, as was reported in the Aug. 17 News Tribune article, “Peterson questions federal biofuels plan,” Aug. 17.
By: Rolf E. Westgard, Duluth News Tribune
The administration’s latest energy boondoggle is properly being challenged by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who serves most of western Minnesota, as was reported in the Aug. 17 News Tribune article, “Peterson questions federal biofuels plan,” Aug. 17.
A 50-50 blend of certain biofuels with conventional aviation gas does test well in military aircraft. But as Peterson points out, producing this fuel requires costly additional processing. Undersecretary of the Air Force, Erin Conaton, said recently, “Right now, biomass fuel is about 10 times the cost of JP-8, the current military aviation jet fuel.”
Undaunted, President Obama announced a $510 million taxpayer program to support four new plants to produce military fuels from cellulose non-food stocks like corn residue and algae. Unfortunately, that approach will be even more expensive than current methods, which use the fruit of the plant, corn kernels and soybeans.
Substantial amounts of fossil fuel also are needed to gather up, bale and transport that crop residue to a processing plant. And it takes a whole lot of it to make a little bit of transportation fuel. Nature required 90 tons of plant material and 1 million years to make a gallon of the crude oil that we extract today.
There is no shortage of conventional proven aviation and other fuels for our military. It is all available from secure U.S. refineries, which process crude oil from friendly North American sources.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for the production of 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2011. We will struggle to produce
4 million gallons, as there is no effective production process.
In 1819, Henri Braconnot, a French chemist, first discovered how to unlock the sugars from cellulose by treating biomass with sulfuric acid, a process used today. But nearly 200 years of effort has yet to produce an effective process for high-volume production.
When the biofuel industry is able to provide the quantity of fuel the Air Force requires at a good price, “We will be ready to buy from them,” Undersecretary Conaton said.
Using $510 million for premature production plants won’t make it happen for the Air Force.
Rolf E. Westgard of St. Paul is a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and teaches energy subjects for the University of Minnesota Lifelong Learning program.