Coalition Protests Senate’s Anti-biofuel Research Vote

 - June 5, 2012, 4:40 PM

Thirteen aviation groups, including NBAA and GAMA, are firmly supporting continued research by the Department of Defense on the use of biofuels after the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to strip funding for those efforts. By a 13-12 vote last month, Senate committee members are blocking Defense participation in programs to construct biofuel refineries and have prohibited the Pentagon from purchasing renewable biofuels that are more expensive than regular jet fuel.

In a letter sent to lawmakers, the coalition of aviation groups protested the vote to block the department’s participation in programs to construct biofuel refineries, which would severely curtail research into the use of biofuels derived from plants such as algae and sugar cane to supplement the use of petroleum-based jet fuel.

“It is our collective belief that the ongoing efforts of the United States military on alternative fuels are helping reduce the cost of those alternatives and will ultimately help reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” the groups said.


The civil aviation biofuels effort is being driven by carbon taxes. The military biofuels effort is being pushed from the top down by administration politics. With improved climate change science and quality life-cycle biofuels analyses coming in over the last decade that take land use change and other greenhouse gasses such as methane and nitrous-oxide (N2O) into account, as well as energy return on investment (EROI), it has become clear that the conventional PC wisdom on biofuels is wrong. They are, in fact, worse for the environment and actually increase rather than reduce dependence on fossil fuel. The laws and regulations need to catch up to the science. If there was an N2O tax (a greenhouse gas 298 times more potent than CO2 that is released by fertilizer manufacture and use), biofuels would be struck dead in a heartbeat. The World Health Organization and UN Food Program have literally begged the EU and US to drop their renewable fuel mixing mandates because of the impact they are having on driving up food prices around the world. Biofuels are lose-lose, no matter which side of the political aisle you are on.

Well said, Cliff. It took several years to educate the environmental press, as well as the general media, that "no, biofuels are not a panacea, and can actually be worse for the environment." But now we are dealing with a whole new, naive crop of journalists. And there are few industries more connected and practiced in the arts of spin than aviation.

The industry has claimed from the start that they won’t contribute to the fuel-food problem. So, among other feedstocks, they use fuel made from used cooking oil (which, because there are mandates for biodiesel, only means that less UCO is available for biodiesel and the latter industry turns to vegetable oils), and from the oil of Camalina sativa (false flax), which they continue to label as “a non-food crop”. The latter is at best a half truth. Camelina sativa was grown extensively in central and eastern Europe until the 1940s, after which it was displaced by higher-yielding oil-bearing plants. Its oil is extremely edible, and highly polyunsaturated. But because the food market is tiny compared with the fuel market, they feel they can get away with calling it “a non-food crop”.

Their more general strategy is to use tiny amounts of unusual biofuels -- made from coconut oil, algal oil, jatropha oil (anything but palm oil!) -- all over the world, generating headlines, in order to give the impression that they're about to take up biofuels large-scale, that it's sustainable, that they won't be relying on palm oil, and that there's enough alternative feedstocks available (none of which is true).

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