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Military Looks to Synthetics, Conservation to Cut Fuel Bills

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2008 – With fuel prices soaring and no apparent end in sight, the Defense Department is feeling the pinch in its pocketbook and is looking for ways to save through conservation and alternative fuels programs.

The Defense Department is “probably the largest single user of petroleum products in the world,” so rising energy costs are a major concern, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a questioner at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore earlier this week.

“Every time the price of oil goes up by $1 per barrel, it costs us about $130 million, and frankly, my credit card limit is getting narrow on that,” Gates said.

Particularly in light of wartime operations, the impact is significant. Defense Energy Support Center statistics show that the military spent $12.6 billion on jet fuel, diesel and other fuels in 2007, with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan consuming $1.7 billion of that total.

Spiraling fuel costs in 2008 and their effect in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1, have forced department officials to return to Congress for additional funding to cover the shortfall. But the department is increasingly looking to other options, Gates told his Asian counterparts during the three-day security conference, citing efforts ranging from synthetic fuels initiatives to fuel reclaiming aimed at curbing fuel demand as well as costs.

Gates noted that the Air Force recently achieved milestones using synthetic fuels that cost significantly less than their petroleum counterparts. In March, a B-1B Lancer became the first Air Force aircraft to fly at supersonic speed using a 50/50 blend of synthetic and petroleum gases.

The fuel, derived from natural gas, is being tested as part of an ongoing Air Force program to help the environment and to use a fuel produced domestically.

Air Force officials previously have tested the fuel blend in the B-52 Stratofortress, the first aircraft to use the fuel, and the C-17 Globemaster III.

Meanwhile, engineers at Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee wrapped up alternative fuel testing on the first fighter jet engine in May. The test used a synthetic blend in the engine for the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon jets.

“The goal is to have every aircraft using synthetic fuel blends by 2011," Air Force Maj. Don Rhymer, of the Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Office, told the Air Force News Agency. “By 2016, we hope at least 50 percent of this fuel will be produced domestically.”

While experimenting with synthetic fuels, the Defense Department is exploring other fuel-saving options. “We are looking at ways to recapture used petroleum products and refine then, and we are looking at various conservation measures,” Gates said at the Asia Security Summit.

Gates described some of the recovery efforts he witnessed during a May 1 visit to Red River Army Depot, Texas, during testimony later that month before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The depot contracts with a private company that retrieves gasoline, oil and other fluids in the Humvees, Stryker armored vehicles, tanks and other vehicles brought to the depot for maintenance, Gates told the senators. The company then refines and sells the fluids, with Red River Army Depot getting a share of the profits.

“So they make several million dollars back for the taxpayers simply by not throwing away these used fuel and petroleum products,” Gates said.

Gates called this an example of how the Defense Department supports broader conservation efforts. “I think that we do have a contribution to make, but I would say that it is very much in a supporting role,” he said at the Asia Security Summit.

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates of the Air Forces New Agency and Janaé Daniels of the Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center contributed to this article.)

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Robert M. Gates


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