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USA: light breathing of "green energy"

Battleships on biofuel entered the American grouping

USA: light breathing of "green energy"

The world's largest international naval exercise Rimpack, which has been traditionally held for 40 years in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands, this year turned out to be not only unprecedentedly wide in number of participants, but also unusual in nature.

Announcing the start of the maneuvers, the head of the US Navy Admiral Jonathan Grinert, not without pride, said at a briefing at the Pentagon that for the first time the American grouping included warships and aircraft of carrier-based aviation that run on biofuel.

During the exercises, which took place from June 29 to August 7, two destroyers and one US Navy missile cruiser used biofuel for their engines, or rather, its mixture with regular diesel fuel in the 50 ratio of 50%. Simultaneously, dozens of Super Hornet F / A-18 F-A-XNUMX airplanes soared into the air from the deck of the Nimitz nuclear aircraft carrier, also fueled with this mixture. It is important that no engine modifications were required due to a change in the “diet”.

US Navy Secretary Ray Maybus believes that the demonstration of the new capabilities of the US Navy was a success. “Until now, we have only tested biofuels. We have now shown that biofuels and other alternative energy sources can be used during military operations, ”he said.

However, while in the Pacific Ocean continued war games with a conditional enemy, a serious political battle around the Pentagon’s biofuel program took place in Washington. Plunging deeper into the problem, the Republican opposition in Congress found that the military was buying biofuels — ethanol — at $ 26 per gallon, and its 50-percent blend that was used during the exercise cost about $ 15 — about four times more than ordinary fuel for warships and aircraft.

It turned out that for the acquisition of 450 thousand gallons of ethanol for Rimpak, the US Defense Ministry spent about $ 12 million. Immediately remembered the recent report of the agency itself, in which its annual cost of buying biofuels at current prices was projected at $ 2 billion.

Senator John McCain said that in conditions of a shortage of state funds and budget cuts, including the Pentagon itself, this is a luxury that does not allow. As a result, a bill was drafted in Congress prohibiting the military department from making major purchases of biofuel until its price drops to an acceptable level, the same as that of regular gasoline or kerosene.

In reality, the storm was raised by McCain and his fellow party members in many ways in order to annoy the Democrats on the eve of the upcoming November elections. About the program of the Ministry of Defense in the field of biofuel use has been known for a long time. Back in January 2010, it announced that the US Navy intended to demonstrate to 2012, and to 2016-mu - to launch a "green", that is, environmentally friendly, strike grouping with the participation of ships on biofuel. The "large green fleet" will have to include ships with nuclear, hybrid (combining electric motor and steam turbine) or alternative power plants that operate on biofuel. On the same fuel will have to fly and the Navy aircraft.

In addition, it was announced that by the 2015 year, the Navy and the US Marines were going to halve the use of gas in their non-tactical commercial fleet, and by the 2020 year to transfer at least half of the coastal facilities to alternative energy sources. By 2020, at the expense of alternative sources should be covered "half of all energy consumption" in the US Navy "for ships, aircraft, tanks, vehicles and coastal facilities."

In August 2011, the ministries of energy and agriculture announced that they would invest up to $ 510 million in the next three years in the production of biofuels for warships and aviation, as well as civilian transport. The meaning of the project is to develop interdepartmental cooperation with the active participation of private business in the development of effective technologies and the construction of plants for the production of biofuels.

In the US, it is made from corn, soybeans, some other crops, wood processing residues and human waste products, as well as algae algae. For example, biofuel for the mixture that was used in the Rimpak exercise was received on 90% from spent vegetable oil, and on 10% from algae algae.

The Pentagon, which is the largest consumer of oil in the world, says that switching to alternative energy sources should, firstly, reduce the US dependence on energy supplies from abroad, and secondly, stabilize fuel costs for the US military. For example, the US Navy, due to price hikes in the oil markets, was forced to spend $ 2012 million more than planned in the 500 fiscal year. In addition, everyone has long been aware of how important it is to protect the environment.

However, the red light can catch fire on the way of the "green armada". And it will not ignite Republicans in Congress, but simply very high prices for biofuels.

In this story, almost all the major problems faced by the development of alternative energy sources in the United States have affected.

Ford technology - in the twenty-first century

The Pentagon's plan for using biofuel is part of the broad program of President Barack Obama, which he put forward immediately after winning the elections in 2008 and for which billions of dollars were allocated from the federal budget. Its goal is to reduce the dependence of the country on the supply of oil from abroad by switching to other, clean, energy sources, which in the United States include natural gas. "These technologies will be of great importance for the development of the US economy and energy security of the country in the 21st century," the president said.

In 2005, imports accounted for about 60% of all oil consumed in the United States, now about 45%. Three and a half years ago, Obama set the goal for 10 years to reduce oil imports by another third. He proposed to reduce energy consumption through the introduction of new standards, including in the automotive industry, and to expand investment in the development of alternative sources such as geothermal, solar and wind energy, biofuels, as well as in the production of hybrid cars (working on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline) and motor vehicles.

Since then, the federal authorities have allocated more than $ 9 billion for this purpose. Funds have gone to support enterprises that are developing clean energy technologies and to encourage consumers who have bought their products. Preferential loans guaranteed by the government for manufacturers of solar panels and wind power plants were provided. Subsidies were allocated to local authorities for the creation of ethanol filling stations and charging stations for electric vehicles. Tax deductions were established for those who acquired such machines.

In many states, dozens of enterprises have emerged in the field of the production of clean energy, including the sun and water. There were projects that at first seemed exotic, but today they look completely natural: oceanic floating platforms with wind-generators are being created on the Atlantic coast, and solar-powered power stations are being installed in the Mojave Desert.

As Obama recently said, over the past four years, wind power generation has increased in the US from 25 to 50 gigawatts. Ohio State - the leader in this field - is already getting about 20% of the energy it uses thanks to wind farms. The industry gives the country 75 thousand jobs. For four years, the production of energy from solar panels has doubled, although their contribution to the overall "energy savings" is much smaller.

Corn under biofuels has expanded, the number of ethanol plants exceeded two hundred, and its production reached 14 billion gallons. The government and many large companies - postal "Yu-Pi-Es" and "Federal Express", telecommunications "ATT" and "Verizon" - have begun to translate their fleet into ethanol. The number of stations at which you can refuel with E85 “hybrid” fuel exceeded two and a half thousand. Here, by the way, they remembered that the founder of the American automobile industry, Henry Ford, in the nineteenth century, also designed a car whose engine could run on both gasoline and ethanol.

Changes began to occur not only on the ground, but also in the air, more precisely, in air transport. A number of American airlines carried out demonstration flights, filling the planes with a mixture of ethanol and jet fuel, and the German Lufthansa announced that it would launch regular flights on the route Washington-Frankfurt am Main on Boeing 2012 using X-fuel using 747. Even NASA has joined the biofuel production projects, believing that ethanol can be used for rocket engines and spacecraft, including when launching into deep space.

Empty places for "green cars"

Every time I come to the Washington food store "Safwei", I look with envy in the underground garage for the most convenient parking spaces, located next to the elevator in the shopping malls. They are not busy, but I drive on and sometimes look for another free parking lot for a long time. Plates on privileged parking places say that they are intended only for "environmentally friendly cars" - "hybrids" or electric vehicles.

Most of these places, as a rule, are empty. The reason is obvious - few can claim them. According to polls, the vast majority of Americans fully support the development of alternative energy sources and measures to protect the environment. Initially, as usual, it was necessary to overcome philistine prejudices and even primitive fears of windmills, but now no one needs to agitate for "green technologies" here. But consumers, as you know, vote with a purse. And "environmentally friendly machines", despite all the government's propaganda efforts, are not in great demand so far.

Everything is explained simply. For the use of cars that can run on both gasoline and ethanol, while there is no developed infrastructure: the number of gas stations with Е85 fuel is not enough and is distributed unevenly throughout the country. For example, in Washington there are only two, another six - within a radius of 35 km from the city. About the same picture - with gas stations.

In the world by the end of last year there were 27 million "hybrid" cars, in the US - 9 million, but many of their owners continue to refuel with gasoline, although in some places, particularly in the "grain belt of America" ​​- the states of the Midwest, ethanol may even be Cheaper due to government subsidies. In addition, when using an ethanol mixture fuel consumption increases by 25-30%. By the way, this year the prices for biofuel are expected to increase due to a decrease in the corn crop, which suffered from a severe drought.

As for the "hybrids", which, along with conventional internal combustion engines, have an additional electric motor, everything is explained even simpler. “Electric cars” in the United States are still expensive, even with the tax deduction set for them of $ 7,5 thousand, which buyers can use. For example, the cost of Chevrolet Volt is $ 41 thousand, and last year all 7,6 thousand of such machines were sold, although the company General Motors, which produced them, hoped that it would be able to sell about a quarter more.

The novelty of the Nissan company - the Leaf model, working only on electricity, will cost after all tax deductions not less than $ 31,5 thousand. One charge is enough for only 160 km of a way. You can charge the machine from a network with a voltage of 220 volts, but a special stationary device is required. You can put it in the garage, if you have one.

Both cars are small, the interior is very modest, the engines are weak. Their use is fraught with additional difficulties. And for the same price in the US, you can buy quite a decent "SUV", so dear to the heart of any American.

With no less problems, the development of other alternative energy sources - solar, wind, geothermal - is also encountered. It is clear that it is not possible to place their generating capacities everywhere, and when transmitting electricity to consumers over long distances, losses occur. At the end of last year, a scandal broke out in the United States over the bankruptcy of the California solar company Solindra, which received loans under government guarantees for more than $ 500 million. The money of American taxpayers was wasted. Despite large financial injections, Solindra failed to create a competitive production and to resist the onset of cheap solar batteries from China. In this market, the supply so far exceeds demand.

By the way, China has now become a world leader in the use of renewable energy sources. USA - in second place. Renewables here account for 14% of the total energy generated. However, 60% of this volume comes from hydropower, more than 20% - wind energy.

In 2009, Barack Obama, speaking with his first presidential message to Congress, set a goal to double the production of renewable energy in three years. It was not possible to do this. During this time, it increased not twice, but only by two percent. And to expect that in conditions of a severe post-crisis economic recovery this indicator will change at an accelerated pace, it is not necessary. "The cost of $ 9 billion led to insignificant results," - said the verdict of the newspaper "Wall Street Journal", reflecting the opinion of US business circles.

It is also obvious that in the conditions of an acute budget deficit, the government will no longer be as generous in supporting these projects as in previous years. The last presidential initiative aimed at increasing the number of electric vehicles in the country and providing for subsidies and tax incentives of $ 1 billion, did not receive the support of the republican opposition in Congress. All this, of course, does not contribute to increasing investor interest in this industry.

In addition, relatively low prices for natural gas in the US also deprive the alternative energy of additional incentives.

The main goal is the flow of electrons

Of course, the development of renewable energy sources will continue in any case, but experts suggest that the overall strategy and many specific projects be seriously revised so that the sad story of Solindra does not repeat. The head of the Rocky Mountains Institute, Emory Lovins, believes that the main obstacle to "green energy" is not the lack of technology or the difficult situation in the economy, but their "slow implementation."

One of their simple recommendations is to increase the production of biofuels (ethanol) in order to lower its cost and make production profitable without government subsidies. In general, the problem of profitability is perhaps the main one in this area. All agree that unconventional energy technologies will not be in great demand until they are able to compete financially with oil and gas.

An employee of the Center for Energy Policy Studies at Stanford University, Jeffrey Ball, in an extensive article published in the June issue of the authoritative magazine Foreign Forces, put forward a number of concrete proposals on how to reduce the cost of energy production from alternative sources. He believes that the approach to this problem as a whole requires a serious adjustment. “In the United States, the government is completely mad, then increased, then reduced support for the use of renewable energy sources, misleading investors and hindering the development of technology. In addition, the procedure for allocating subsidies was inefficient, the expert writes. “In Europe, where renewable energy support is more stable, governments have often been too generous, providing such large subsidies that they could not be used.”

According to Ball, the main thing is to understand that “the goal is not wind turbines or solar batteries, but an accessible, convenient, safe and constant flow of electrons,” that is, electricity generation. To achieve this, he proposes to increase funding for promising research aimed at improving the efficiency of new energy technologies. He also considers it necessary to change the procedure for granting subsidies and to issue them through auctions "to those companies that agree to generate more electricity at a lower price."

In addition, it is necessary to simplify the process of issuing licenses for the use of wind and solar energy, as well as laying power transmission lines from such enterprises to consumers. Finally, the expert advises the US government not to conduct trade wars with other countries because of cheap foreign equipment for alternative energy entering the American market. In his opinion, tough competition in this area will only benefit, as it will help speed up the development and implementation of innovative technologies.

Americans, indeed, have always been inherent desire for new things. Mark Twain said: “An Englishman is a person who does something because they have done it before. An American is a person who does something because they have not done it before. ” The question is not whether or not to develop “green energy”. No one is in doubt about this. The question is how to do it? There is no exact answer to it yet, but they are looking for it.

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