Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is on a mission to decrease the U.S. Navy’s dependence on foreign oil. In his words, “We simply buy too much petroleum either from potentially or actually volatile places on earth.” In 2009, he announced a plan to fuel half the Navy’s energy consumption through alternative fuels by 2020. “We’re doing this for one reason,” Mabus stated, “We’re doing it to be better warfighters.”
Currents Magazine, a Naval periodical, adds that the rising cost of oil is another good reason to pursue alternative fuels,
Another major contributing factor is cost. When Mabus first announced the Navy’s energy goals in 2009, the price of a barrel of oil was $76. Just two years later, the price averages around $100. For every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the U.S. military faces $31 million in additional fuel costs.
Even more importantly, Mabus reported that for every 50 convoys, one Marine is either killed or wounded.
One of the Navy’s energy goals is to demonstrate and then deploy a “Great Green Fleet” fueled by alternative sources of energy. We have covered the Green Fleet before, in our post on the Navy’s MMOWGLI online gaming project. The Great Green Fleet is scheduled to deploy in 2016. In the meantime, the Navy conducted a two-day demonstration in July to evaluate the performance of “drop-in replacement” advanced biofuel blends in an operational setting during the 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. In the demonstration, both Navy surface ships and Navy aircraft used a 50-50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made of a mix of waste cooking oil and algae oil. All systems performed at full capacity.1
In the video below, the Blue Angels demonstrate their use of a 50/50 biofuel blend during a September 1 practice for an air show at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
Critics argue that the biofuels the Navy is using in these demonstrations are too expensive, particularly at a time when the federal budget is strained and large quantities of oil and natural gas are becoming available in the United States. The 900,000 gallons of the biofuel blend used during the Great Green Fleet demo cost about $13 million – four times the cost of petroleum. But the Navy counters that these demonstrations are just a small first step in a long-term plan. By using the buying power of the U.S. military – the world’s largest single oil consumer – the Pentagon can help foster a competitive biofuels industry that would eventually give the military (and presumably Americans at large) the ability to use competitively priced biofuels in regular operations. The idea is that by demonstrating that these “drop-in” fuels can be used in existing military vehicles without compromising performance, the Navy will prove that biofuels can work just as well as conventional petroleum-based fuels. The benefit of biofuels being that they can be produced domestically and would reduce our nation’s dependence on oil.
The Navy Biofuel Initiative Under the Defense Production Act states that the Navy must meet certain conditions in their use of biofules. As the NavyTimes reports,
For example, biofuels must be cost-competitive with fossil fuels; biofuels can’t detract from the food supply — so far, aviation fuels have used seeds from camelina, a plant in the mustard family; and the fuels must work with existing military hardware without weakening performance.
Politics aside, what the Navy is doing with the Great Green Fleet is an exciting development in the world of advanced biofuels. Sustainable America supports innovation in advanced biofuels, and the U.S. Navy’s goal to reduce petroleum usage and dependence. In the long-term, energy independence and innovation are key to creating a more Sustainable America.