Ethical decisions: faulty fuels

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Mahboobin 10:00


Nicholas Albanese (

War with Russia
The tension between Russia and the United States has been escalating ever since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine all of those years ago. While the Berlin Wall has been down for almost half a century, it has become apparent that the cold war still lives on. The United States has been involved in multiple wars against nations and terrorist groups that are openly supported by Putin’s Russia. Tension between the two nations had grown so great that a single incident could start World War III. On April 27th, 2029 a Russian supported terrorist group from Chechnya set off a “dirty bomb” in Washington D.C. They had smuggled this bomb into the States using Russian resources. While it is not a nuclear explosion, dirty bombs are explosives that shoot out nuclear material which have the same effect that the fallout from a nuclear explosion would have. There were obviously numerous civilian casualties but the bomb failed in killing the President of the United States or any of the members of Congress.

That day the United States declared war on Russia. All troops became activated and started to prepare for invading Russia. The draft was re-established and it was not going to be like Vietnam in the 1960’s. This time, people were lining up to enlist to defend their country, which had just been attacked. Not since Pearl Harbor started the United State’s involvement in World War II had the nation become so devoted to a single cause. The Russians had set out a campaign to rule both Europe and the Pacific, so the theaters of operation would become similar to that of World War II. All of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, backed the United States while all of the satellite nations, which Russia had controlled, backed Russia. While no war is good, the thought of mutually assured destruction had kept both nations from launching any sort of nuclear warheads against the other.

What I Was Doing
When all of this was happening, I was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in electrical engineering I was assigned to be a pilot in the Navy. As a pilot, I had been threw flight school and had come out as a one of the first pilots that flew the new F-35 Lighting II. As a newly winged Ensign, I was stationed on the CVN Nimitz class super carrier USS George H. W. Bush. I had been a part of operations in the wars that lead up to the break out of World War III. I did my shore tour duty with the Blue Angels and had returned to the fleet to command that air wing on the USS George H. W. Bush that I had been a part of previously in my career. On the day when the actual dirty bomb went off, I was on the George H. W. Bush, which was in the Arctic Sea by Alaska. I was part of the first round of attack that came when the United States declared war.
The Problem
The war went on with both nations attacking the other with no clear front-runner. Within a year, both nations had realized that the key to win the war was going to be energy. Whoever was able to continue to operate while the world’s fossil fuels source diminished would be the victor. The main battlegrounds became the precious oil and natural gas reserves in places like the Middle East. Both nations were desperately trying to find a way to fuel their militaries. The United States Navy found a possible fuel source that they had been working to help develop with the private sector since 2009 [1]. Biofuels are not something one thinks of when you think of assets that militaries need to operate. The United States Military saw biofuels a fuel source that can be mass-produced in the United States that would allow the military to operate in their full capacity. No longer would the United States need to rely on places in the world that were not friendly to our cause to feed its military’s endless appetite for fuel.

As a high-ranking officer in the aviation community and an engineer, I am qualified to interact with the companies that produce this biofuel and make sure that it is done right and to the Navy’s standards. I have been relieved of my command of the air wing on the USS George H. W. Bush so that I can take up a shore duty of inspecting the plants that produce the fuels. I will be inspecting the recently opened plants that belong to Solazyme, and company that the Navy has worked closely with when it comes to biofuels [1]. Solazyme currently has a contract with the United States Navy to produce at least half of the amount of fuels that the Navy will need to continue to operate throughout the war. This is a massive amount of fuel and it has lead to multiple factories springing up to supply the demand.

As I inspected these plants, all seemed to be well. The plants were able to produce the amount of fuels that they needed to so that they could supply the Navy with the fuel it needs. Solazyme was sticking to every guideline that had been laid out before them by the Navy. The problem came about when these fuels started to be tested by Solazyme in jets and diesel engines. Ninety nine percent of the time, the fuels worked perfectly in the engines. However, there were cases of the fuels becoming unstable and igniting in the fuel tanks from the heat of the near by engines in certain models of aircraft.

Solazyme had been very unethical in their treatment of these incidents. They had not reported the explosions to the Navy and had buried the incidents in their own records with mountains of paperwork [2]. It was by accident that I came across the log entries of these explosions. Some officials in the company had made their subordinates cover up the incidents to prevent any loss of payment from the Navy. Now, I was stuck with an ethical decision that had major implications. I had no choice but to bring the incidents to light, but there were problems with just cutting off the contract with Solazyme [3]. The Navy had already invested millions in the company to build factories that are meant to produce the biofuel. To just discard everything the Navy has done with this company would be foolish.

The Decision
Once I had brought the problem to light in the Navy, they had said that my input would be considered highly in the Chief Naval Officer and Secretary of the Navy’s decision on what to do about Solazyme. There are many problems at hand. First is that this company had blatantly committed a crime by withholding information about the incidents of the explosions and they needed to be held responsible. There is also the issue about the millions of gallons of fuel they have already produced and that while it has caused problems in some aircraft, that the fuel is allowing the Navy to operate without fossil fuels.

After investing millions of dollars in Solazyme, I firmly believe that the Navy cannot just cut all ties with them and move on. While slightly problematic, their product is a irreplaceable asset to the Navy. The Navy cannot win this war without fuel and this fuel source is the safest in terms of being able to acquire it. Since the only logical explanation is that Solazyme be allowed to continue, it is obvious that change must be made. The ethical dilemma comes in with whether or not the Navy has a right to step in and run the show from top to bottom. While this would be a complete breach in the rights of a company to run itself without the government stepping in, it is also unethical to allow this company to continue on with no change in how they operate since of their history of burying important information to increase capital gain and with how important they are to the war effort [4].

As an engineer and a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, it is my responsibility in this time of war to make sure that the nation is able to protect itself. The biofuel produced by Solazyme has showed that it can become unstable and cause an explosion, which would put our brave pilots at risk in the air as they take the fight to our enemies[5]. It could be reasoned that the militaries choice to try and rely on biofuels will either make or break our efforts; so discarding such a major player like Solazyme could be the difference between victory and defeat. That is why I am going to advise that the Chief Naval Officer and the Secretary of the Navy that we continues to use Solazyme, but with much closer supervision. It may seem like the government is over stepping its rights to watch Solazyme as close as it needs to, but desperate times call for desperate measures[6].

Upon further review, it is apparent that the millions of gallons of fuel already produced by Solazyme for the naval aircraft is susceptible to becoming unstable, however rare that it actually becoming unstable might be. It is also apparent that a solution to the problem is not probable in the foreseeablep[7]. While dangerous, the fuel is the only completely safe to acquire fuel source we have available to us at the time. The decision about whether or not to use the fuel already produced and whether or not to continue to produce the fuel is very difficult question. The result of the war could rely on whether or not we use this fuel that we have already invested so heavily in or if we try and control the fossil fuel supply, which is a very dangerous venture itself [6].

The responsibility as an engineer to not allow faulty product to reach the engines of the United States Navy’s jets is a very important aspect [3]. While it is important to remember that, in making this decision it is important to also remember that not using has some very grave consequences as well. Not only will discarding the fuel not allow the Navy to take the fight to the enemy but it might also take away our ability to protect ourselves [6]. When it comes down to it, it’s a decision about numbers. The number of pilots that we may lose is small, but any loss is too much. However, risking the possibility mid air explosions could be the difference between allowing the Navy to take the fight to enemy and helping to win the war and only being able to protect us.

Sun Tzu said in his famous Art of War that “one who wishes to fight must first count the costs’” [8] We all new that going into this war that there was going to be loss. It’s an unavoidable aspect of war. Knowing this makes decisions like this one very difficult. Knowingly putting our troops in harms way, especially when its something we did wrong, is the hardest decision we make as officers in the military. However, going into the military is inherently dangerous, and everyone in the military knows the risks that go along with it. Officers especially have dedicated their lives to the service of our country, and to be a pilot you have to be an officer [6].

I have decided that I will advise the Chief Naval Officer and the Secretary of the Navy that we should indeed go ahead and use the fuel. The benefits to our nations defense greatly out way the possible costs. As an engineer, I know that using the fuel is unethical in a many ways [9]. It breaks the rules about sending out possibly dangerous product to be used. However, the ethical dilemma is compounded because of the threat posed to the whole of the United States. We cannot allow ourselves to become narrow minded and think that everything is going to be perfect in this conflict. How ever hard it is to accept, this fuel is possibly the asset that will allow us to win this war. While adding more danger to the already dangerous job of being a pilot in the United States Navy, it is something that we have to do.
The Solution
While I going to break one of the ethical rules that engineers have, I am going to over emphasize the some of the others to help avoid the problems that breaking the rule about using faulty product can cause. Using this fuel is not going to be something that we do without any other steps. While the fuel itself is not able to modify, we are going to have to find a way to test the fuel before it is put into an aircraft. I am going to advise the Chief Naval Officer and the Secretary of the Navy that we train sailors and naval aviators about the fuel and how it is possible that the fuel becomes unstable. Some of the aircraft can be slightly modified so that should the fuel become unstable and still make it into the aircraft, that the tanks will be able to stay cool enough that they will not ignite [10]. In making my decision on how to advise the Chief Naval Officer and the Secretary of the Navy, I thought about how the decision was made to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While it was something that killed a lot of people, it all in all resulted in less of a loss of life because the need for an invasion being avoided. The decision I have made will not kill hundreds of thousands of people like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did, but it might result in some loss of life. Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it will result in an overall result of less loss of life and a better defense of our nation in this time of conflict.


[1] Home Page | Solazyme. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2014, from

[2] Code of Ethics For Engineers. (2006, January 1). Retrieved October 27, 2014, from

[3] Samuel, S., Beck, C., John, B., Daniel, O., Patterson, L., Andreoli, R., & Usmen, M. (2014). Delay in Addressing Fire Code Violations. Public Health and Safety, 1-4.

[4] "Social Scientists and the Human Terrain System (HTS) Project " Online Ethics Center for Engineering 10/2/2013 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Monday, October 27, 2014

[5] "Dissent About Quality" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 4/1/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Monday, October 27, 2014

[6] Kaurin, P. (2014). War and Risk. In The Warrior, Military Ethics and Contemporary Warfare Achilles Goes Asymmetrical. (pp. 56-69). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. [7] Hoppe, E. (2011). Ethical issues in aviation. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate.

[8] Sun Tzu. Art of War. New York: Delacorte, 1983. Print.

[9] Ethical Merits Then And Now. (2011). Civil Engineering (08857024), 81(9), 40-41.

[10] Ethical Merits Then And Now. (2011). Civil Engineering (08857024), 81(9), 40-41.
I would like to thank the Steel City NROTC Unit for their inspiration to be dedicated to the Navy and the service. I would also like to specifically thank MIDN 1/C Anderson, head of the Aviation club at the Steel City Unit, for helping to inspire my desire to be a pilot. I would like to thank Dr. Arash Mahboobin for making Engineering Analysis interesting a fun.

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering

Submission Date 2014-10-28

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