Memo to Air Force: Stop misleading the public on liquid coal

TO: William Anderson, assistant Air Force secretary

FROM: Climate Progress, blog

SUBJECT: Your nonsensical claims in a recent Reuters piece, “US Air Force Eyes Alternative Fuel, Slashing CO2.”

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Liquid coal cannot be part of a plan to “zero out” the Air Force’s carbon output — contrary to your repeated claims.

BACKGROUND: The following press release masquerading as a genuine news story appeared this week:

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.

Well, that certainly would be big news, if it were actually true. The press release story continues:

By early 2011, the US 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.

So the question is, what alternative/synthetic fuel does not add to emissions of GHGs? Amazingly, the story continues:

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.

Who knew the Administration had bought into claims that oil supplies have already peaked? You’d never know it from any of their policies … but I digress.

On Monday, a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft, workhorse of the US-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.

Liquid coal? Are you serious? Apparently so:

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….“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.”

DISCUSSION: So you are aware that liquid coal releases much more GHGs than regular jet fuel. And you are apparently aware that in the unlikely event somebody actually captures the CO2 from the production process and finds a place to permanently store it — it would still have the exact same GHG emissions as regular jet fuel.

So the question is — how could liquid coal possibly be part of an Air Force strategy to “nearly zero out its carbon dioxide output” and “promote sources of power that do not add to emissions of greenhouse gases”?

[Hint: It can’t!]

CONCLUSION: Liquid coal cannot be part of a plan to “zero out” the Air Force’s carbon output. It could be part of a plan to “dramatically increase” the Air Force’s carbon output or, possibly, to leave it unchanged. Neither is a strategy worth spending a nickel on. Either you are very confused yourself, or intentionally confusing the public. Neither is good.

ACTION ITEMS:

  1. Learn the truth or start telling it.
  2. Do not refer to liquid coal as “alternative energy” — coal is pretty much the same old energy.
  3. Do not reinfer to liquid coal as “a much … greener alternative” — it ain’t (except on Bizarro World).
  4. Given your ability to take what should be a bad news story and get it covered as a good news story, you might consider an assignment to the White House.

NOTE TO REUTERS: In the future, please check your facts and/or seek alternative views than the Air Force.

cc: Jim Wolf, Reuters

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