Building a Navy that runs on ethanol

Source: By Wesley Clark, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, May 20, 2016

Armed Forces Day is May 21. It is a good reminder to thank the men and women in uniform who spend every day protecting our freedom, on and off the battlefield. Strange as it may seem, sometimes those victories don’t require bombs or bullets.

This year, the Navy deployed the Great Green Fleet — a carrier strike group powered by renewable energy systems designed to keep our warfighters mobile, even if oil is scarce. It includes five biofuel-powered ships using some of the same technologies now available to consumers at the gas pump in the form of gasoline blended with 10 or 15 percent ethanol. Both efforts were borne from the simple notion that homegrown fuels will help to insulate America from price shocks and foreign manipulation, all while protecting our environment.

The development and use of 21st century clean, American-made biofuels has helped keep America moving forward. In 2015, gross U.S. oil imports totaled almost 10 million barrels of foreign petroleum every single day. Put another way, our country spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every minute on foreign oil — billions of dollars annually. This represents a substantial outflow of economic resources to other nations, many of which are not the friendliest actors on the world stage.

American biofuel producers answered the call to reverse this resource drain, striving to develop homegrown sources of energy. While many have struggled to compete financially or been deemed too troublesome environmentally, ethanol has been a true success story.

Ethanol is an advanced biofuel that is renewable and better for the environment. As a fuel additive, it already is blended into 97 percent of the gasoline sold across the country. In most cases, it is blended at the 10 percent level and replaces toxic fuel additives that have been linked to cancer and smog, making the air we breathe healthier and cleaner.

But increasingly, higher ethanol blends of gasoline such as E15, which contains 15 percent ethanol, are being offered to American drivers who are reaping the benefits. Not only is ethanol grown and produced right here at home, it is cooler and cleaner burning than standard gasoline, and it also has a higher octane level so engines benefit from increased horsepower.

In the past decade, the United States has become the global leader of ethanol production. Since 2000, U.S. ethanol production increased 13-fold in response to heightened demand for a clean, domestic fuel source. Every gallon of clean- burning ethanol decreases our dependence on oil — one truckload of American ethanol displaces more than 60 barrels of imported oil. So successful the revolution has been, we have cut our imports in half since the introduction of ethanol into the fuel supply.

In addition to breaking our dependence on foreign oil, the ethanol boom is yielding other positive benefits. The industry created or supported nearly 400,000 jobs in 2015 across the U.S., and experts predict expanded use of higher ethanol-blend fuels like E15 could create thousands more. Ethanol also has saved consumers as much as $.50 to $1.50 a gallon when gasoline prices spike, according to some estimates.

America’s ability to produce its own energy to fuel our economy will help ensure our safety and keep our financial resources here at home. The use of American-made biofuels will also decrease the likelihood that we are drawn in to foreign entanglements around energy production. In the 21st century, energy security will continue to be vital to our national interests, and ethanol is set to play a central role at home.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, former NATO supreme commander, is a board member of Growth Energy, an organization of ethanol supporters.