Moving alternative energy forward

Moving alternative energy forward

Last Thursday, the Navy announced that another key piece of the U.S. arsenal — a destroyer (sort of ) — had made its first long transit at sea on alternative fuel.

The self-defense test ship ex-USS Paul F. Foster, the Navy’s last remaining Spruance-class warship, ran for 17 hours up the West Coast on a fuel made half from standard diesel and half from algae biofuel. By all the accounts from Naval Sea Systems Command, the ship’s engines didn’t even notice the difference. Several Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft and vehicles also have done these kinds of early test runs.

The problem, of course, is that alternative fuel is still much more expensive than standard petroleum, in part because DoD is also paying for the costs in developing it. Still, do the many early successes with alternative fuel mean the services have reached a — buzzword apology  – tipping point where their fuel ambitions are a business problem, rather than a science problem?

Yes and no, the military services’ top scientists said. Speaking at last Friday’s Military Reporters and Editors conference, the top S&T bosses for the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force said the pure science and chemistry behind alternative fuels probably still has room to improve, and, yes, so does the cost.

Walter Jones, executive director of the Office of Naval Research, said the services can remain “early adopters” as well as large customers for alternative fuel, attacking both the science and cost problems simultaneously.

He and his colleagues agreed the main strategy is simple: The Pentagon just has to start buying lots of alternative fuel, to train its vendors to produce it in bulk and give the best deals per gallon. Service officials today acknowledge alternatives may never be as cheap as petroleum, but if alternatives at least can be competitive, and their prices kept stable, that is a good compromise. If it becomes cheap enough that commercial customers like the airline industry also get on board, so much the better.

This is by now a familiar refrain, and although it sounds reasonable enough, it raises many questions. We’re in post-super committee Austerity America, where Secretary Panetta upends the couch cushions in his office looking for spare change to buy fighter jets. If you were a bean-counting, green-eyeshade type somewhere in the Building and you could either buy 20,000 gallons of standard fuel for $2.80 per gallon or 20,000 gallons of fuel for, let’s say, $10 per gallon — could you justify the alternative high-test stuff?

The Army’s chief scientist, Scott Fish, acknowledged this is a problem. And not only is it a near-term issue for logisticians who need to get fuel today to fly out to an Air Force fighter tomorrow, it’s a problem for acquisitions managers as well, he said. Let’s say the Army is choosing between two engines: a less expensive one with poor fuel economy and a more expensive one with better fuel economy.”

“As we find more and more of these tech solutions that potentially provide payoff in lifecycle energy, we have to ask, ‘What is the right way to pay for this?’ Fish said. “If you talk to the individual who’s performing the acquisition, they are not necessarily incentivized within the current budget system to make that investment and drive additional cost down.”

Service officials have been saying for a long time they want to get better about this, and back during last year’s littoral combat ship battle, supporters of Austal’s LCS 2 design kept hammering about how much more “efficient” they said it was, trying to exploit the Navy’s promise to consider lifecycle costs. (Later the Navy just decided to please everyone by buying both LCS designs anyway.)

If the Pentagon’s ever going to get off this merry-go-round, it’s going to have to bit the bullet someday, hold a press conference, and announce a huge order of alternative fuel, then go right to work defending the cost as a reasonable investment for the long term. The problem is, there’s probably never been a worse time to draw attention to what might sound like a budget extravagance.

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The government can sell the fuel/ algae oil domestically and internationally on government sponsored marketing. In that way the investment will paid off. And use the earnings to buy or build modern ship, boats jets and tanks by the navy, air force and army. And help to boost the economy in the long run.

The “long run” is the issue. Can we/will we spend the up front investment needed that might pay off a decade from now? The Army spent a chunk of change over the last decade looking at hybrid engines, but hasn’t reached a point where they’re comfortable fielding a vehicle force around them.

That will depend on the demand and the government will to pursue on this investment. If there is a demand, there are profits. Oil in nature becomes man’s basic need. So as to your question as in the long run, if the president will make a standardization,code, law and investment on the usage and mass production of this algae fuel as part of the country’s fuel, then there will be demands and profits for algae fuel.

Biofuels first create fuel diversity and can provide some hedge against political risk, something that is relevant to an expeditionary framework. But only major civilian sector demand will drive demand up and drive unit costs down. There is some experimentation underway in civilian aviation, which should be supported. Same should be pursued for road bound/land-based systems. However, we may need another global economic recovery to drive conventional crude prices skyward and make biofuels more attractive. Under those conditions, the economics improve.

@RCDC… Please explain your magic math.

You want the US government to subsidize the marketing and sale of micro-algae based biofuel, taking a deep loss in doing so. You seem to think that this will produce a financial profit that could be used to fund ship building. How does that magic math work?

DOE estimates that micro-algae based biofuel will exceed $8 per gallon with the economy of large scale production. And I suspect that estimate was developed by those cheerleading the development.


I do believe that algae fuel will work on public vehicles. Sell it at 25 cents per gallon on gas stations to boost the demand at fast pace.

Algae Biodiesel Photo Bioreactors and Algae Harvesting Bio Pioneers in green companies have developed algae biodiesel production and algae oil harvesting systems and equipment for growing algae and harvesting the algae in a very efficient manner for use in algae biofuels such as biodiesel from algae and algae ethanol.

Like other plants, algae stores energy in the form of lipids. Growing algae has potential for algae oil production due to its fast growth rate and the high oil content of some varieties. Some species of algae are so rich in algal oil that it accounts for over 50% of their mass, not counting the water, which is over 90% of the algae.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has identified approximately 300 species of algae, as varied as the diatoms (genera Amphora, Cymbella, Nitzschia) and green algae (genera Chlorella in particular) as potentially good sources of algae to biodiesel production. Diatoms, or Bacillariophytes, are unicellular, microscopic algae. These organisms are widespread in salt water where they constitute the largest portion of phytoplankton biomass. There exist approximately 100,000 known species around the world. More than 400 new specimens are described each year.

Properly engineered algae systems could produce annually between 2,000–20,000 gallons of biodiesel-worthy algae plant oil per acre. Algae biodiesel and algae ethanol stand as the great green hope of the clean biofuel revolution. For comparison, biodiesel produced from soybeans produces 50 gals/acre/yr. Biodiesel from palm oil yields 600 gals/acre/yr.

Some algae harvesting systems retail for $100,000 US dollars or more. Some algae systems can process one gallon of algae oil per minute from a fluid stream that is half algae/half water by mass & where half of the algae cell mass is oil.

Algae Biodiesel production and algae oil harvesting systems that work in a efficient manner (Use energy conservatively) for growing algae and harvesting algae into Algae biofuels will be the new and long lasting answer to our question of “World How do we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Clyde H. Brunson Jr. ‚also would be glad to read this article, as he was stationed on the Paul F Foster back in the 80’s, I have many memories aboard the vessel growing up.

That was very educational RCDC, but I think JRT was looking for cost estimates and not a science lesson.

We are going to lose $7 dollars a gallon compared to petroleum based fuel, but we’ll make it up in volume. Ahhh…Ummm…Yeah, that makes good business sense. I have a plan to sell $10 bills for $5 each. The projected sales are so good, phase two will sell $50 bills for $20 each. What a concept. We will be beating off customers with sticks. Imagine how many $100 bills we can sell?

I have a crazy idea! Why don’t we open up all of our own known domestic oil resources for our own use and pay $2.50 a gallon!!!!! We don’t have a fuel crisis, we have a political and leadership crisis. The idea that DoD should lead any kind of market development of alternative fuel is stupid. If it is a good idea, the free market will develop it for profit.

The cost and production will vary in the type of algae fuel produce. If the government is willing to hire me to do a cost / scheduler analysis, and production management, I will give you a complete breakdown, schedule and management production on this algae fuel.

Federal involvement in development of science and technology for producing algal bio-fuel is an example of setting national industrial policy, picking the winners and losers. Other possibly better solutions compete against subsidized efforts.

Do you want the federal government to be involved in setting national industrial policy? Where and how much central planning?

First decision is to identify the strategic imperatives and determine the threshold levels for that involvement.

If it is decided that algal bio-fuel should receive federal support, then further development needs funding, and funding is now a very precious resource.

Because algal bio-fuel costs more than competing petroleum distillate products, you have to create/stimulate demand. You can create demand by subsidizing the production and sale of the algal bio-fuel (subsidies cost money), and by raising the costs of competing petroleum distillates with taxes (revenues could be used to fund the subsidies), and you can pass laws and/or regulations that force people to buy the more expensive algal bio-fuel by requiring some fraction be mixed with the competing petroleum distillates before retail sale of the fuel mixture (a very small percentage would not be expensive, but costs more than using none at all).

We import roughly 50% of our crude oil, so reducing our use of that would improve balance of trade. And opening a production stream of algal bio-fuel would provide an alternative that could be expanded upon should there be some future need.

But… Any significant increase in the cost of transportation fuel and home heating oil would slow or possibly stall economic recovery of growth in GDP. Voting to raise the cost of fuel at the pump is political suicide, especially during a recession when a lot of people are out of work, and many others are under-employed. So the initial percentage in the blend would have to be very low, and only ramped up slowly in the longer term.


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