US Navy launches Great Green Fleet with 2016 kickoff event

By Katie Fletcher | January 21, 2016

On Jan. 20, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet with the deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group during a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island. The initiative was created to highlight how the Navy and Marine Corps are using energy efficiency and alternative energy to increase combat capability and operational flexibility. The blend fueling the JCS CSG’s surface ships contains alternative fuel made from waste beef fat provided by farmers and ranchers in the Midwest.

At the close of the ceremony, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) departed the pier at its San Diego homeport, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship running on an alternative fuel blend as part of its regular operations.

In his prepared remarks, Secretary Mabus mentioned other notable endeavors like Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet and President Kennedy’s mission to the moon. “We have never been a nation to shy away from such bold ambition, and with that thought in mind, in 2009, I set some aggressive energy goals for the Department of the Navy,” Mabus said. “So today’s remarks are about more than just the Great Green Fleet; they are about the journey we have traveled these past seven years and, more importantly, the exciting direction we are headed.”

In 2011, President Obama charged Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Mabus with the mission to partner with the private sector to stimulate a domestic advanced biofuel industry, and as a result, two years ago the Farm-to-Fleet program was created.

"The Navy's use of renewable energy in the Great Green Fleet represents its ability to diversify its energy sources, and also our nation's ability to take what would be a waste product and create homegrown, clean, advanced biofuels to support a variety of transportation needs," Vilsack said. "Today's deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America."

California-based AltAir Fuels provided the fuel blend made from feedstock of beef tallow and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. The Defense Logistics Agency awarded a contract to AltAir for 77.6 million gallons of the alternative fuel blend at a cost to DLA of $2.05 per gallon, making it cost competitive with traditional fuel. The fuel was purchased through a partnership between the Department of the Navy and U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at making alternative fuel blends a regular part of the military's bulk operational fuel supply. Of the $2.05, the USDA contributed about 14 cents per gallon. According to Mabus, the 14 cents supports the Midwest farmers who supply the waste beef fats that AltAir uses to make the alternative, drop-in fuel.

Through the Commodity Credit Corp., USDA is able to partner with the Navy to help diversify its fuel supply and simultaneously support America's farmers, ranchers and rural economies. “That’s an amazing story—beef fat to Navy fuel,” Mabus said. “And the best part is that we bought this alternative fuel at a cost competitive rate, at a time when oil prices are at their lowest in a decade.”

The GGF was first introduced at RIMPAC in 2012, now Stockdale is the first surface combatant to receive alternative fuel as part of its regular operational supply. Following the ceremony on Jan. 20, Mabus and Vilsack flew out to the destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) to witness it replenishing its tanks with alternative fuel from fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-AO 200). The remainder of the CSG's surface ships will receive fuel from fast combat support ship USNS Rainier (T-AOE 7), which will take on over 3 million gallons of the alternative fuel blend in Washington State before joining the CSG on deployment. Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) are part of the JCS CSG.

JCS CSG deployed using other energy conservation measures (ECMs), including stern flaps, LED lights and energy efficient operational procedures in the course of its normal operations. Other ships, aircraft, amphibious and expeditionary forces and shore installations using ECMs or alternative fuels in the course of performing planned mission functions will be part of the GGF throughout 2016.

Mabus said the fleet is growing. “In the seven years following 2009, we will have contracted 84 ships, making our emphasis on alternative fuels and more fuel efficient systems that much more critical to future operations for our fleet,” he said. “Tapping into alternative fuel supplies gives us a strategic advantage, expanding our options to fuel the fleet.”

The U.S. Navy joins companies like United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Cathy Pacific, Southwest Airlines, UPS, FedEx and Disney in adopting alternative fuels and incorporating them into their supply chain.

Sailing the GGF in 2016 was one of the five energy goals Mabus set in 2009 for the Navy and Marine Corps. “We said we’d sail the Great Green Fleet in 2016, and here we are,” he said.

Mabus mentioned in his opening remarks that the day was just like any other day for a U.S. Navy strike group deploying, and he ended by saying “for the ships and the sailors onboard, there will be no noticeable difference, but this deployment is what leading the way in advancing our capabilities looks like, and I am certain the Navy and Marine Corps will continue to lead, with their eyes on the horizon, as the greatest expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known.”