US Navy says at-sea exercises prove operational use of biofuels

19 July 2012 19:57  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US Navy said on Thursday that exercises at sea near Hawaii have successfully demonstrated the operational potential for wide-scale use of biofuels in naval surface ships and aircraft.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a press conference that operations being completed in the Pacific Ocean by a special “Green Strike Group” over the past few days have proven that the Navy can incorporate “drop in” biofuels without any negative impact on ship or aircraft engines and overall performance.

The strike group, composed of an aircraft carrier and several other surface ships, conducted several days of routine manoeuvres, including flight operations, off the coast of Hawaii using some 450,000 gallons of fuel blends of 50% biofuel.

Mabus said that operations of the strike group demonstrated “seamless integration of advanced biofuels in Navy operations, and there were absolutely no modifications required or made to any of the engines of ships or aircraft”.

The biofuels used were in part based on used cooking oil and algae.

The biofuels are referred to as “drop-in” fuels because they must be of a quality that allows their use in any Navy vessel or aircraft engine and fuelling systems without requiring any engine modifications or distribution alterations.

Mabus said the Navy would continue to pursue alternate fuel sources as “critical to the Navy and to our nation’s security”, adding that continued US dependence on foreign oil constitutes a military vulnerability.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Navy’s biofuels programme would help US farmers and create new opportunities for agricultural development of non-food biofuel feedstocks such as switch grass.

In response to many critics in Congress who challenged the Navy biofuels programme on cost – with senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona charging that the $26/gal (€21/gal) cost of the naval biofuels was unsupportable given US debt and deficits – Vilsack said that the joint USDA/Navy programme will not make large volume purchases of biofuels until they become cost competitive.

However, he said that the Navy’s pilot programmes in the use of biofuels will help develop a market for the fuels and consequently help stimulate commercial scale production.

Vilsack also said that plans are progressing by his department, the Navy and the Department of Energy to commission private sector companies to build at least two biofuel refineries to serve the US fleet. 

He said that the three government departments expect to name later this year the companies chosen to build the refineries.

($1 = €0.82)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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