How much do we really pay for the gasoline we use? What we pay at the pump is only the beginning, with direct and indirect subsidies and tax breaks appearing on our tax returns on April 15, environmental costs showing up at the ER and banking in the atmosphere, and the opportunity costs... Well, I won't go on because we just don't have a legitimate estimate. And because we don't know how much the gas really costs us, we are less inclined to make those supposedly economically rational decisions that will lead our economy away from oil dependence. Some suggest taxes to make the pinch real, but there's hardly any political support for that.
Enter the US military, the world's largest purchaser of petroleum. After many decades of accounting for the cost of oil as only the amount they paid refiners, they have recently started accounting for the cost of delivering the gas to the tank where it will be used. The result is amazing, and it may be enough to change the calculus of how the military uses energy. The average peacetime delivered cost of fuel purchased for $2.30 a gallon and used on military bases averages out to $5.61 a gallon when the costs of delivery are added in. (For the details, see this post in the always-interesting DOD Energy blog, and then download the pdf.) Camp Casey, in the Republic of Korea, averages $11.04 a gallon. Later in the pdf there's a screen that seems to show that it's $13 or so for fuel in Iraq, but it may be higher. I've heard that the military spends about 9 gallons getting a single gallon of fuel to its destination in some conflict areas. (Is this true? Please! Correct me if not.)
There is plenty of criticism that the military is not doing enough to move to alternative fuels, like this from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (And from what I've heard , the biofuel and synfuel programs described here have been modified since this was written. Again, correct me if this is wrong.)
But the new cost calculus makes such things as portable garbage -to-fuel converters, and today's green media darling, the urine-powered fuel cell, feasible. According to this article, Ohio University's Geraldine Botte's lab is using urine to produce the equivalent of a gallon of gas for 90 cents. (Insert moderately tasteless pun here.) No. There is simply nothing I can say to top that whole scenario, except that the cost of war will fall dramatically if we find a way to turn soldier's pee into fuel at less than 1/6 the cost of gasoline.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.