Navy's Great Green Fleet proves abilities of advanced biofuels

By Luke Geiver | July 19, 2012

The U.S. Navy has made it official: advanced biofuels used to fuel air or sea applications require zero modification to existing infrastructure. During a two-day demonstration of the Navy’s Great Green Fleet, a maritime project aimed at running all possible air or sea platforms operated by the Navy on various non-food derived drop-in biofuels, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus provided an update on the demonstration project. The Great Green Fleet demonstration taking place off the coast of Hawaii, Mabus said, was a unique opportunity for the world to watch. “It was a seamless integration of advanced biofuels,” he said, “from the Navy’s most sophisticated air and sea platforms.”

“One point I want to make,” he said of the demonstration, “is that absolutely no modifications were required or made to any of the engines that were burning biofuels.” Dynamic Fuels LLC out of Louisiana supplied waste-oil-based JP-8, and Solazyme provided algae-based fuel for the demonstration. Both companies formed contracts to supply the fleet with biobased fuel nearly one year ago.

The first day of testing showed that both manned and unmanned aircraft responded flawlessly to the use of a 50/50 blend of advanced biofuels and fossil based fuel. Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, noted during the press briefing that the demonstration should help Congress to better understand the opportunities the U.S. has with biofuels.

Mabus pointed to the experience of Lieutenant Commander Jason Fox, a pilot who participated in the demonstration, as an indication of the importance of the Great Green Fleet’s accomplishment. According to Mabus, Fox said, “I’ve been in the Navy for 13 years and I’ve never been involved in something this historic. I’m hoping someday I’m going to look back and this will be the point when we turned from our dependency on fossil fuels.”

Both Mabus and Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary for the USDA, noted the significance of the demonstration project, also pointing towards a venture between the USDA, the Navy and the U.S. DOE to establish biorefinery’s capable of producing the volume of advanced biofuels required by the military.

Although when asked about the high cost to pay for the renewable fuel (roughly $26/gallon), Mabus responded with a reference to computers and nuclear submarines. “If we only looked at cost, we still wouldn’t be buying nuclear subs,” he said, “we can buy four conventional subs for the cost of one.” And for computers he added as an analogy to explain why the military should spend and has spent more for emerging technology, “You wouldn’t be using a computer today if you only went on cost because it is more expensive even today than the typewriters.”

For more information on the Great Green Fleet please see the Department of Defense website.