Air Force scuttles plans for coal-to-liquids fuel plant in Montana

After reviewing industry bids to build a synthetic fuel plant at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., the Air Force has nixed a controversial plan that would have allowed a contractor to construct a facility for converting coal into liquid fuel. In exchange for the land use, the contractor would have provided the Air Force with aviation fuel.

Environmentalists in Montana opposed the plant because of concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. They also were worried about its effect on the Missouri River, since the production process would require millions of gallons of water daily. Additionally, depending on the properties of the coal being used, it can take as much as a ton to produce a single barrel of fuel, exacerbating the environmental impact from coal mining.

Federal law bars agencies from purchasing synthetic fuel unless the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are equal to or less than those of petroleum, but there are no standards for measuring lifecycle emissions for either fuel. Nonetheless, Air Force officials have said they won't buy synthetic fuel unless the production process is shown to be greener than that for conventional fuel.

The Air Force didn't mention environmental concerns in a statement about the decision at Malmstrom. The service cited the degradation of security in a weapons storage area, interference with missile transportation operations and safety issues. But Air Force spokesman Gary Strasburg said environmental issues were a factor as well.

"There was a location issue, which included environmental concerns," Strasburg said. "We're willing to consider other proposals elsewhere."

Turning coal into liquid fuel isn't new. The Germans pioneered the process in the 1920s and used it in World War II; the South Africans used it during apartheid rule when trade embargoes limited the nation's access to petroleum.

Air Force leaders see having a reliable domestic source of synthetic petroleum as critical. The service burns about 2.6 billion gallons of petroleum-based fuel annually and it wants to begin using a 50-50 blend of synthetic and conventional aviation fuel by 2016, which would significantly reduce its dependence on petroleum.

The Air Force is on track to certify its entire fleet of aircraft for using the 50-50 blend by 2011.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.