Why Cooking Oil, Algae Will Help Power Navy Fleets
A mixed scent of used cooking oil and algae scum apparently smells like victory in the morning for the U.S. Navy. The seafaring arm of the U.S. military has just placed the largest biofuel order in government history to fuel the fighter jets and warships of its "Green Strike Group," scheduled for a test run in 2012.
The 450,000 gallons of biofuel on order looks like a mere drop next to the 1.26 billion gallons of fuel used by Navy fleets and top gun aviators each year. But it marks a huge step for more widespread use of biofuels that could help the U.S. military wean itself off of a dependence on foreign oil that costs taxpayer dollars and even puts lives at risk on the battlefield.
"The Navy has always led the nation in transforming the way we use energy, not because it is popular, but because it makes us better war fighters," said Raymond Mabus, secretary of the U.S. Navy.
It also lowers the cost of U.S. national defense. The Navy must spend $31 million more for operations every time the price of a barrel of oil goes up by a dollar, Mabus said earlier this year at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit . Such spending could reach about $1 billion more if oil prices spike by $30 per barrel, as prices have done historically.
Biofuels present an alternative to that expensive proposition. Part of the Navy's new purchase comes from Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels a joint venture of frozen chicken-processor Tyson Foods, Inc. and Syntroleum Corporation which makes biofuel from used cooking oil. The other part of the Navy's order comes from an algae-derived biofuel made by Solazyme.
"This historic contract is a major step forward for America's energy security and the advanced biofuel industry in our country," said Jonathan Wolfson, chief executive officer of Solazyme. "Solazyme has delivered more than 360,000 liters of 100 percent algal-derived renewable diesel to the U.S. Navy for their fuel certification program to date."
The biofuel is mixed with regular jet fuel or ship diesel fuel, so that it does not need any engine modifications. The Navy has already tested such a fuel blend in its F/A-18 carrier-based jet fighter, the V-22 tilt-rotor Osprey, and various small boats and ships.
All of that fuel is slated for use by ships and aircraft of the Green Strike Group. The Navy's demonstration coincides with the world's biggest naval war games called the Rim of the Pacific Exercise hosted by the U.S. Navy for allied navies each year.
The Green Strike Group could eventually evolve into the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" a carrier strike group powered solely by alternative fuels in 2016. The U.S. Navy also expects to use 50 percent alternative fuels for its ships, jets and helicopters by 2020.
Both Mabus and Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued statements about the new biofuel purchase.