Cutting Military Biofuel Programs Could Cost 14,000 Jobs

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is controversial for many reasons, prohibits the military–the nation’s biggest consumer of oil and gasoline–from expanding its use of biofuels. According to a recently published study, if Congress ratifies this legislation it could eliminate approximately $10 billion in economic activity and the creation of more than 14,000 jobs.

Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) recently commissioned a report on the NDAA’s economic impact from High Road Strategies, an industrial, economic and energy consulting firm. Among other things, the study found that between $9.6 billion and $19.8 billion of economic activity, and between 14,000-17,000 new jobs could be created by 2020 if the DoD is allowed to meet its previously announced biofuel goals. Seems like a funny thing to do when both parties are crying out for jobs, doesn’t it?

Military Biofuels - NAVY refueling

Image via US NAVY/Flickr

Ultimately, the report confirmed what many alternative fuel advocates have been saying for months: the military’s use of biofuels will result in widespread positive impacts for the nation, above and beyond DoD savings and increased national security. “Military demand is helping to shape the early market and scale the advanced biofuel industry, which could help the commercial aviation industry and other industries to meet their hopes and plans to expand their use of biofuels,” the report concludes.

“The military often leads major economic transitions in our country –  think about aviation, communications or the Internet,” said Nicole Lederer, co-founder of E2. “Yet right now in Washington, some shortsighted lawmakers are poised to block a potentially major transformation of our national energy supply – and also hold back the significant economic growth and job gains that would come with it,” she said.

“The military is the biggest driver of the biofuel industry right now,” agrees Russ Teall, president and founder of biorefinery builder Biodico, which recently signed an agreement to provide advanced biofuels to the U.S. Navy. “If Congress stops the military from doing what the military knows is best, Congress also could threaten the growth of the Made-in-America biofuel industry.”

The full report [PDF] can be accessed here

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

    • You mean jobs like these at Amonix? ? The Washington Post could only find 4,000 permanent jobs after spending $17B in alternative energy stimulus money. The military is a pawn in this political game that is all about power politics and only hurts national security.

      • Pete Danko

        Amonix is an interesting story, don’t you think? It was awarded a three-year R&D grant in 2007 by the Bushies — and I know even Paul Ryan supports R&D, so we’re all cool there, party on — and $8.2 million went out under Bush and then another $7.4 was disbursed under Obama. No stimulus money there. Oh, but wait, yeah, there was an addition $5.9 million tax credit for the manufacturing plant. That came from the Obama administration. Alas, Amonix never had a profit, so it never was able to use it. As for that Post story, I’m trying to find where it says anything about “spending” $17B. Or maybe you’re confusing loan guarantees with spending. Help me, out, Mr. Postman! But in all seriousness, I kind of agree with you. The federal government ought to be pouring tons of money into clean energy, but it shouldn’t worry about justifying it with the jobs argument. The argument is that the health of the planet, our future, demands clean energy. Period. Jobs will be created, but who knows how many? The 14,000 estimate here, for all I know, is a pretty hopeful number — although of course I tend to think it’s not the complete and utter bamboozlement that is the 100,000+ number thrown around by supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline.

        • Here’s the current self-reported tally just for DoE spending: $34.5B for 60,000 jobs (vast majority are temporary and are already gone). Source: . When you add USDA and DoD spending, it totals about $90B. The federal government almost never gets what it pays for. The best way to stimulate R&D is to offer prizes for actually delivering technology that achieves certain milestones rather than just funding pure research. DARPA is starting to adopt the X-prize approach and this is very encouraging. However, there are limits to what can be achieved. If you take out all the parasitic energy inputs from fossil fuels into biofuels, you are left with about 1:6 EROI (huge negative energy balance. That is why no one uses only ethanol energy to make more ethanol or biodiesel to make more biodiesel (or solar to make more solar panels or wind to make more wind turbines). Funding research to break the laws of thermodynamics is a bad bed, even for the government.

          • Pete Danko

            Cliff — That’s loans guaranteed, that’s not “spending.” No way it will end up costing the government $34.5B. The vast vast majority of that amount will be paid back with (admittedly small) interest. But on biofuels, I share your skepticism, especially on early generation ethanol and biodiesel (see my piece: BTW, SunShot is doing some of that prize thing on the soft-cost size, which is where much of the cost are:

            • Solyndra was a loan. And it cost taxpayers $535M. Many of these companies went bankrupt, many more are failing. I am tracking a very small fraction of US alternative energy companies and the overall health is horrible. You and I know that the government money goes out in many forms: grants, loans, loan guarantees, production tax credits, installation tax credits, blending credits, crop program payments, etc., and that is not counting all the state money and RENs. Go to and do some simple searches to see how many billions we are blowing on energy-related contracts that aren’t even tallied here because they are not paid with stimulus money. I would love to have a tight accounting for what has been spent, what has been offered, and what has been repaid. If you have that, please share it. If not, them I will stick with the government’s imperfect numbers because I know most of what’s been spent will be lost, and much more is being spent that is not accounted for. This whole alternative energy train is headed into a thermodynamic and economic sinkhole. We’d be better off spending these billions to repair roads and bridges and at least employ people to leave a positive legacy of tangible benefit, rather than lining the pockets of campaign bundlers. Just think of the millions of acres of landfills that will be required for millions of acres of solar panels. They don’t collect enough energy to manufacture themselves, let alone recycle themselves, you know. Biomass collects 1/16th of the energy from the sun per square meter than solar panels do. Pretty soon a critical mass of folks are finally going to realize how much fossil fuel energy we are wasting making alternative energy, and the idiocy will stop.

            • Pete Danko

              “Many of these companies went bankrupt, many more are failing” is simply false.

            • Obama-backed and bankrupt:
              A123 Systems
              Abound Solar
              Amonix ($5.9M spent of $15M DoE grant)
              Azure Dynamics
              Beacon Power
              Compact Power (MI)
              Energy Conversion Devices
              Evergreen Solar (MA)
              GreenVolts (CA)
              Konarka (MA)
              Mountain Plaza (TN)
              Nordic Windpower (KS)
              Olsen’s Mills & Olsen’s Crop Services (WI)
              Range Fuels (CO)
              Raser Technologies
              Satcon Technology
              Solyndra (CA)
              SpectraWatt (NY)
              Stirling Energy (AZ)
              Thompson River Power (MT)
              UniSolar (MI, ECD subsidiary)
              Willard & Kelsey Solar Group (OH)

            • Pete Danko

              I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t make myself clear — I was responding your assertion that many of the companies in the DOE loan guarantee program were bankrupt. But apparently you were saying something very different. In any case, thanks for the spirited discussion and for reading EarthTechling, and have a great weekend!