I’ve been spending the past hour or so reading an excellent paper written by a US Naval aviator titled Twenty-First Century Snake Oil: Why the United States Should Reject Biofuels as Part of a Rational National Energy Security Strategy.
(Note: The link for the original paper is broken, but CAPT Kiefer has published another version in the spring 2013 issue of the Strategic Studies Quarterly titled Energy Insecurity: The False Promise of Liquid Biofuels.)
Though there is sufficient coverage of the basic chemistry and thermodynamics of agriculture and combustion processes to satisfy the geek in all of us, the paper is easy to read and understand for anyone with a reasonably broad based education.
There is a healthy portion of history included that makes for fascinating reading. I learned quite a bit of new material, even thought I have been intensely interested in energy for many decades. For example, have you ever heard of the waterworks project for the city of Chan Chan, which failed due to a fatal planning flaw; no one surveyed the required route to realize that it inevitably required water to defy the law of gravity?
I learned that the chemical energy added to soil by intensive ammonia-based fertilization has been directly responsible for increasing Iowa corn yields by a factor of 6 since the 1930s. It was a little depressing to find out that that adding hydrogen from natural gas to upgrade carbohydrates to useful liquid fuel releases 11 tons of CO2 for every ton of hydrogen added to the fuel and that the process is absolutely required to make biofuel compatible with the military fuel supply system.
There is also an important passage about the Dynamic Energy Budget theory and why it highlights the importance of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) for both organisms and for society as a complex organism that requires energy to function.
The paper’s author has a solid background in a world where critical thinking skills can be the difference between success and a very short career.
Captain T. A. “Ike” Kiefer is a naval aviator and EA-6B pilot with 7 deployments to the PACOM and CENTCOM AORs and 21 months on the ground in Iraq. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physics from the US Naval Academy and a Master’s in Strategy from the US Army Command and General Staff College. He has commanded at the O-5 and O-6 level and was 2005 action officer of the year of the Joint Staff J-7 Directorate in the Pentagon. He currently teaches strategy at the US Air Force Air War College as the CJCS Chair.
Captain Kiefer clearly explains why no amount of genetic engineering can overcome the fundamental limitations of trying to grow fuel for vehicle propulsion and why adding biofuels into our fuel supply makes us less secure. I hope that the people who are excited about funding the Green Fleet will listen to one of their own and stop the wasteful spending program.