Senate Moves To End Restrictions on Military Biofuels

Aviation groups applaud effort.

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The U.S. Senate is moving to eliminate restrictions on Department of Defense research into alternative jet fuel sources, a reversal that could help speed biofuel development.

The 67-32 vote removes language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the military from purchasing biofuels if they cost more than traditional fuels – and at this early point in their development, they always do.

The Air Force has been testing small quantities of alternative fuels in warplanes and support aircraft in order to demonstrate their reliability, with a plan to shift more to biofuels once prices comes down. But the testing has been expensive. The Air Force paid about $59 per gallon for 11,000 gallons in one test earlier this year. That prompted Congress to put restrictions on military biofuel evaluations in the name of deficit reduction.

But supporters of aviation biofuels research say we must be willing to pay a little more now to reap the benefits of mass-produced biofuels in the future.

In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee last spring, a coalition of aviation groups, including NBAA and GAMA, wrote: "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 biofuels industry is rapidly developing and has the potential to save taxpayers millions, as well as provide a much-needed, supply-based hedge against the volatility resulting from reliance on unstable sources of oil."

The full legislation containing the biofuel language must still be passed by the Senate and then be reconciled with its counterpart bill passed by the House before it is submitted to President Obama for final approval.