United States Navy Achieves Renewable Energy Milestone

Biofuels & Climate Change

Today, the U.S. Department of the Navy launched the first vessels of its Great Green Fleet (GGF) at the San Diego Naval Air Station North Island, Carrier Pier. The GGF centerpiece is a carrier strike group—including an aircraft carrier and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer—deploying using energy conservation technologies, operating procedures and alternative energy in the course of its regular scheduled deployment in 2016.

In 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced five energy targets that the Department will need to meet over the course of the next decade to become more energy efficient and reduce its dependence on oil. One of these five targets announced was for the Navy and Marine Corps to get half of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020, and that the Navy would deploy an entire carrier strike group using biofuels by 2016.

The Great Green Fleet will be conducted as part of normal planned operations and exercises. The GGF will also include world-wide deployed units employing alternative energy and/or energy conservation measures. The Department of Navy has qualified synthetic fuel blends as drop-in alternatives to conventional fossil fuels on all DoN ships and aircraft. Multiple platforms including USS CHAFEE (DDG 90), USS CHUNG HOON (DDG 93), USS PRINCETON (CG 59), and Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN used synthetic fuel blends in the 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with no degradation in performance.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Mabus said going green is not just about reducing the Navy’s carbon footprint.

“In 2010, we were losing too many Marines in convoys carrying fossil fuels to outposts in Afghanistan, and the prohibitive cost of oil was requiring us to stop training at home in order to keep steaming abroad, a dangerous and unsustainable scenario.

“The Navy is aiming to draw half its power from alternative energy sources by 2020 so ships can refuel less, stay out at sea longer and no longer be at the mercy of fluctuating oil prices and oil-producing nations, which may not all have U.S. interests in mind.”

The federal government has invested more than $500 million into drop-in biofuels, which can be used without reconfiguring engines. The fleet also includes nuclear vessels, hybrid electric ships and aircraft powered partly by biofuels.

U.S. News and World Report also reported that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Secretary Tom Vilsack said the “Navy’s efforts offer a huge market opportunity for the biofuel industry. The Defense Department uses 90 percent of the energy consumed by the federal government, spending billions of dollars annually on petroleum fuels to support military operations.”

The Navy called for ships to run on 50 percent biofuel and 50 percent petroleum in 2009 when it set its goals. After that, the price for a barrel of oil topped $100 and has since dropped to as low as $29 a barrel. For now, ships will run on a mix of 90 percent petroleum with a 10 percent blend of biofuels.

The Navy bought 77 million gallons of the mix at $2.05 a gallon to fuel its ships off the West Coast this year. Some of the biofuel comes from beef fat from the Midwest. Similar contracts are in the works to fuel its ships elsewhere.

The purchase comes after a 2012 demonstration on the Navy’s use of alternative fuels drew fire from lawmakers outraged at the $26 a gallon price tag of the 450,000 gallons of biofuel bought for the event. Legislators passed a law prohibiting the Pentagon from buying biofuels in mass unless the price is competitive with that of petroleum.

BIO is pleased that the U.S. Navy is taking the lead in this area of reducing our country’s dependence on oil.

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