As nations, including the United States, attempt to reduce their dependence on foreign oil, alternative fuels are becoming more common. Biofuels sourced from algae, seeds, crops and food waste, including chicken fat, are growing in popularity. However, biofuels are still not cost competitive due to limited supplies and limited customers. But the U.S. Navy is hoping to change this situation.
The U.S. Navy recently began operations on their Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group which will be fueled in great part by biofuels, the first of its kind. The fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser left port with 900,000 gallons of fuel, half biofuel and half petroleum. The U.S. paid $12 million for the biofuel, or over $26 per gallon.
The U.S. Navy is currently pursuing all avenues for biofuels, including camelina seeds, chicken fat and algae. The U.S. military consumes the most oil of any other single institution globally, with approximately 321,000 barrels used per day. This puts the military in an interesting position since their massive fuel requirements could drive the source of their fuel into more common consumption, such as biofuels.
The U.S. Navy is seeking to have 8 million barrels of fuel per year attained through biofuel sources by 2020. Biofuels are considered likely to be competitive by the end of the decade, especially with large purchases and support from the U.S. Navy helping to drive prices lower. Biofuels have already reduced in price in recent years due to growing consumption and improved technology. However, the current cost of biofuels still is causing outrage over the recent U.S. Navy purchase.
The conventional fuel consumed by the U.S. Navy costs approximately $3.60 a gallon versus the more than $26 a gallon for biofuels recently purchased. This has concerned many in the government, many pointing to it being a waste of money and economically unsound during a time when purse strings should be kept tight. But the U.S. Navy perceives the venture as a necessary step in the right direction, an advancement in technology in an unsound time for foreign fuel and fossil fuels in general.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is the former ambassador of Saudi Arabia, recently spoke at a climate and security conference. Mabus stated: “The reason we’re doing this is that we simply buy too many fossil fuels from either actually or potentially volatile places on earth. […] Of course it costs more. It’s new technology. If we didn’t pay a little bit more for new technologies, we’d still be using typewriters instead of computers. […] And the Navy would never have bought a nuclear submarine, which still costs four to five times more than a conventional submarine.”
Mabus also stated: “We use two percent of all the fossil fuels that the United States uses. And one of the things that this means is that we can bring the market. And to paraphrase the old ‘Field of Dreams’ line, if the Navy comes, they will build it. […] Every single time there were naysayers. And every single time, every single time, those naysayers have been wrong, and they’re going to be wrong again this time.”
Biofuel production recently received a boost from the U.S. Energy and Agricultural departments as well when it was announced that monies would be matched to develop large biofuel plants. $30 million has be allocated to match companies in the field. An additional $70 million will likely be made available in 2013.