WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world’s most powerful air force is seeking to wean itself from foreign oil and nearly zero out its carbon dioxide output as part of a sweeping alternative energy drive, a senior Pentagon official said on Friday.
By early 2011, the U.S. Air Force aims to make sure its entire fleet of bombers, fighters, transports and other aircraft can use a domestically produced 50-50 blend of synthetic and petroleum-based fuel.
William Anderson, an assistant Air Force secretary, said the goal was to reduce energy demand, look for cleaner power sources and to reuse captured carbon commercially, for instance to enhance the growth of biofuels or improve oil well production.
“We can get ourselves very close to a zero carbon footprint,” said Anderson ahead of talks on the issue with counterparts in Britain and France next month.
“Not today. Not tomorrow. But maybe a decade or so down the road,” he told a briefing at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center.
Anderson said the Air Force’s economic clout as a purchaser could help promote sources of power that do not add to emissions of greenhouse gases. Such gases trap heat in the atmosphere.
The largest U.S. solar-electric power array of 14.2 megawatts is to open in December at Nellis Air force Base in Las Vegas, and Anderson said Congress had asked the service to consider if its bases are appropriate sites for small nuclear facilities.
Anderson said the effort on synthetic jet fuel had been spurred by the 2006 challenge to the nation from President Bush to wean itself from its “addiction” to imported oil. Oil supplies are diminishing, Anderson said.
On Monday, a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft, workhorse of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s biggest user of jet fuel, flew for the first time with a coal-derived synthetic blend as the only fuel on board.
Anderson said jet fuel from coal produced 1.8 times more carbon dioxide between production and consumption as jet fuel from oil, but he said most of that additional amount could be captured during production of the synthetic fuel.
Coal was abundant in United States and renewable energy sources could not meet growing energy demands. “Coal is going to play big in the future, we believe, based on all projections,” said Anderson, assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics.
U.S. Air Force global operations require a huge amount of energy. In fiscal 2006, the service consumed almost 2.6 billion gallons of aviation fuel at a cost of more than $5.7 billion, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
Jet fuel accounts for 81 percent of the Air Force’s total $7 billion a year in energy spending, said Anderson.
For every $10 jump in the price of a barrel of oil, Air Force costs rise $610 million, a sum that eats into modernization efforts and other programs if not offset by additional funds from Congress, he said.
In France and in Britain, Anderson said he would reach out to industry as well as to sister air forces in the hope of speeding up energy-saving efforts worldwide.
“We believe that we have to find an environmentally friendly way to mine coal and to burn coal,” he said. “We believe the technology is very close, and we believe that an organization with the market size and presence of the United States Air Force can help move technology forward to make coal a much cleaner and greener alternative across the board.”