The Great Green Fleet-Not So Fair Winds and Following Seas

The biofuels industry continues along its path to be an alternative source to petroleum-based fuels. Emerson’s Douglas Morris, a member of the Alternative Energy industry team, highlights developments in the U.S. Defense Department’s aviation and marine diesel biofuels program.

Emerson's Douglas MorrisIn the past, I’ve written about the trials and tribulations of the advanced biofuels industry, in particular, the ongoing struggle for the nascent players in this space to secure funding. Late last summer, the Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) spearheaded an effort to make available $510 million over the course of three years to develop drop-in aviation and marine diesel biofuels.

Several of the drop-in biofuels that are currently available have been tested and approved for use by the Navy, but this month, it wanted to showcase these fuels on a grander scale so it used the stage of the largest annual international naval exercise, RIMPAC. During this joint exercise, the “Great Green Fleet” demonstration took place and included several ships and a number of aircraft, which operated using 900,000 gallons of a 50/50 blend of biofuels and petroleum fuels.


USS Princeton, CG 59, being refueled by USNS Henry J. Kaiser during RIMPAC 2012

Although the Defense Production Act is the mechanism to provide funding to produce these fuels at commercial scale, Congress must pass a resolution to fund the program, and that’s where things currently stand. Both the US House and the Senate have blocked funding which puts the outcome of this program in question. The opposition is primarily due to the large cost differential between biofuels and petroleum-based fuels. In an effort to move things ahead, this past week a group of almost 400 admirals, generals, and military officials signed a letter to urge congress to allow the Navy to proceed with its biofuels research.

Where this ends up is unknown. What is known is that the military wants better control of its fuel supply and the regular reminders we all see in the news about the political instability of petroleum markets only make this desire stronger.

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