DoD and Navy persist with biofuels, like it or not

DoD and Navy persist with biofuels, like it or not

Just like a school of fish, the conservative media and message machine can turn with amazing quickness when it gets new tasking, or develops a consensus.

If you watch carefully, for example, you can spot the same basic points appear over and over about the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial in Washington. Conservatives don’t like the design submitted by architect Frank Gehry. It’s been in the works for years, but for some reason, within the past few weeks, critics have attacked it from all sides, in blogs, columns and live events in Washington.

The same goes for the Navy Department’s ambitions for biofuels and alternative energy. They’ve been on the books for years. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has convened photo op after photo op with his counterparts in the Departments of Energy and Agriculture. Reporters have documented contract after contract in which the government has broken new records for the cost of fuel. And until recently, nobody cared.

Then, late last year, there was suddenly a flurry of interest from CNS News; Hot Air; the Heritage Foundation’s blog; and Fox News. And this year, when Mabus appeared before the House Armed Services Committee, Republican members swarmed in to attack his alternative fuel plans as a waste of precious dollars in a time of austere budgets. Since 2009, the Navy has been paying anywhere from $16 to $40 per gallon — or more — for its various batches of alternative fuel, but it was only recently that anyone appeared to take notice.

Part of the reason could be the bankruptcy of the California solar-panel maker Solyndra, which folded despite loan guarantees from the Obama administration. Administration critics smelled corruption and cronyism, and the focus on Mabus and the Navy might have looked like a logical next step in that context. Another reason could be a side effect of the Navy’s own message strategy, to partly characterize the alternative fuel effort as “green” in the Earth Mother, tie-dye, Birkenstock sense, rather than a tactical boon to make units less dependent on supply lines. The two audiences for those two messages don’t usually interact.

Whatever the ultimate source of the recent pushback to the Navy Department’s alternative energy plans, it apparently is not working. The service announced Friday that it undertook its latest test with biofuels at sea, this time aboard the frigate USS Ford. The Ford sailed down to San Diego from its homeport in Everett, Wash. on a 50–50 blend of biofuel and marine diesel, and the ship’s main engines drank it down just fine.

Here’s what the Navy said:

Meeting the secretary of the Navy’s call for a drop-in fuel replacement, no changes were required to the infrastructure of the ship or fueling pier for the test. The blended fuel was stationed on a barge in Puget Sound off Bremerton, Wash., and immediately available to the Ford for testing.

“We didn’t embark any personnel or instrumentation for the transit because we wanted to minimize impact to the ship’s normal operations and because we weren’t conducting the same quantitative tests and analysis we’ve done previously,” said [NavSea engineering manager Richard] Leung. “Instead, we provided the ship’s engineers a list of fuel and engine performance system questions and parameters, so they could provide feedback on how the ship performed using the blend as compared to its typical fuel.”

The ship burned all 25,000 gallons during the transit, and according to Leung, feedback from the ship’s engineers was favorable.

“The crew reported no change in their typical procedures when receiving, handling, or processing the biofuel, and said operational performance of the fuel system and gas turbine engines on the blend was almost identical to operations on traditional F-76,” said Leung.

“Having feedback from the Ford’s engineers is extremely useful as we move forward with validating the algal oil blend, and as we prepare for the upcoming Green Strike Group demonstration later this year,” said Greg Toms, NAVSEA technical warrant holder for Fuels and Lubricants. “We’ll again be limited on the data we can collect during that event and will ask similar questions to continue measuring operational user feedback.”

The announcement did not say how much the Navy paid for the biofuel the Ford burned, but at, let’s say, $16 per gallon times half the 25,000 gallons, that’s about $200,000 for just the biofuel in this test. Compare that to roughly $75,000 for a load of standard marine diesel, and you can see where the cost argument comes from.

Mabus and other alternative fuel boosters acknowledge upfront the service is paying a lot more than it would for traditional petroleum, but that’s the point: The Navy has to help fuel-makers cover their research and it has to create a market and economies of scale that could one day make biofuel competitive. Even if biofuel does not cost the same as oil, Mabus has said, it could still be a better deal for the Navy because it would be immune from the price shocks that can hit the standard energy market.

He has so far been undeterred by critics, and in fact plans to continue taking his message to outside audiences. On March 12, the Navy plans to host the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge at its pier in Norfolk, where Mabus and other witnesses will talk about the department’s energy-saving and biofuel programs.

And it’s not just the Navy. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday announced a whole alternative energy implementation plan for the entire Department of Defense.

“Smart use of energy can be a strategic advantage for the U.S. military against our adversaries,” he said. “As we continue to invest in the best military force to defend America today and tomorrow, I want the department to harness the best energy innovations at all levels, from the individual warfighter to the largest installation, to enhance our operational effectiveness and deliver more bang for the buck.”

(If you’re keeping score at home, DoD’s plan says that Mabus’ proposed “Great Green Fleet” — the strike group he wants to field in 2016 using no fossil fuels — will require 3 million gallons of biofuel.)

It’ll be interesting to watch whether Panetta’s involvement means alternative energy skeptics throw in the towel — or step up their attacks.

Join the Conversation

Ewing with more anti-conservative bigotry.
Typical leftist bigot.

That’s not new. I hate to say with a Liberal President who bows to environmentalist they whole Armed Forces will be a lab dish for all new green science project like it or not.

Don’t blame the critics. Chalk it up to tin-eared messaging (“Great Green Fleet?” Gadzooks!) by a SECNAV who seems preoccupied with leftish causes and uninterested in developing warfighting capability, coupled with a suddenly austere budget environment and a shipbuilding plan that looks like a death spiral.

Great Green Fleet…USS Cesar Chavez…USS Medgar Evers…USS John Murtha…USS Gabby Giffords…breathalyzers on ships…DoN Diversity Office. Meanwhile Iran builds nuclear weapons, China builds a blue water fleet, and Russia returns to sea.

Looking forward to the arrival of the grownups in the next administration!

So it’s now leftish to want to be independant of foreign oil. Wow a real security brain child. BTW the original diesel engine was designed to operate on peanut oil so it’s hardly surprising it can operate on a biofuel derivitive.

Only a total idiot would leave the US military completely dependent on fossil fuel at a time when increasing scarcity is inevitably going to force fuel prices to spike unpredictably, make them subject to price manipulation, and make availability of fossil fuel a real strategic vulnerability for our armed forces. This doesn’t even address savings in lives if we can reduce fuel shipments to support US ground bases in forward areas by utilizing solar power collectors. We can’t convert the fleet to nuclear power retroactively, and even if we could it would be far too expensive and difficult to do so. Testing alternative fuels for ships, planes and vehicles is an absolute necessity and we can only hope the flat earth society chorus in and outside the military will one day stop their incessant whining and wake up to the necessity of this course of action. Just think about the effect of the drastic cost increases on oil if we are forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities — and no, we can’t simply keep drilling in the US to counter the price spikes and local shortages..

The Navy has had its eyes on this since 2007.

Non sense. There is 800 billion barrels of shale oil conservatively estimated in the western US. The economy is on fire in North Dakota from the shale oil industry and that’s from drilling only on private and state lands. If the administration opened up the federal lands to US developers, l am pretty sure the DoD could negotiate some firm price locks on oil and have a guaranteed fuel source. This bio fuel silliness is a Democratic administration placating its environmental lobby to stay in office. It hasn’t got a single thing to do with common sense or national security.

For everyone here going on about the environmental lefties driving this train, take a peek at this report written in 2007 (that would be in the Bush years). It includes questions asked by Rumsfeld on how to get the DoD off fossil fuels. From the report:

In Spring 2006, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld formed a DOD task force with a four-part charter: 1) Examine the issue of energy security; 2) Devise a plan for lowering DOD’s fossil fuel requirements; 3) Identify alternate energy sources; and 4) Examine past and ongoing studies to help define DOD’s options.

The task force findings included:
Recommendation #1: Increase weapon platform fuel efficiency.
Recommendation #2: Accelerate energy efficiency initiatives for military installations.
Recommendation #3: Establish an alternate fuels program.

It’s a long report, but provides a lot of background on how we got to this point.

Sixteen bucks per gallon for 25,000 gallons is $400,000, not $200,000. Either way, there’s lots of petroleum within the U.S. borders…and that’s just “the lower 48″!

Well said STemplar, I recently read that we have a 250 year supply (proven reserves) of oil domestically. We just need to have the will to get it THEN we’ll be off of that foreign oil.

Navy leadership isn’t serious about saving energy, providing credible weapons systems having real combat readiness to face threats or saving money. The LCS burns up fuel for no real advantage (and is a useless weapons system). Ditto with the Just So Failed. As for the politicians: The current political leadership works against the domestic oil industry and yet, there is significant oil resources at home. Several “green” companies lobby politicians, get billions in taxpayer hand-outs, give bonus money to their bosses, and then go under. The DOD has been constantly bad about having a business sense when running things. The example mentioned above in the article proves it. Add that up, along with a SecNav that hates Sailors and Marines with the recent dumbassery of an anti-drink and smoke campaign (along with a racist diversity cult program) and you have a leadership that is about one step removed from the raving stewardess that was yanked off the American Airlines flight today.

Yes already Federal government was 2/3 Liberal control.

Except Rumsfeld himself commissioned one of the many studies done in the 2000s. See my post below.

Oil is a global commodity. It will be sold to the highest bidder and, as the world economy improves, the bids will be going up. Right now, current US overproduction is being exported, while our prices at the pump are rising! Given this, any guaranteed access or “price lock” re: shale oil will carry a cost premium. The DoD is doing the right thing, looking for hedges against uncertainty — an a global market that can be merciless to US interests.

I really like the idea of biofuels. Turn huge amounts of waste into energy!

The problem is that there is no good evidence that it will ever be economically viable.

When we have immense quantities of domestic oil ready to be turned into proven reserves and exploited — it is unforgivably stupid to spend huge amounts of money on fuel sources with almost no chance at viability let alone profitability.

I think ethanol is a good illustration. It’s a pretty mature industry which has raised the price of corn-based products, milk, beef, etc. Its use is still mandated because it is not otherwise economically viable. And there are estimates which suggest it takes more petroleum to make the ethanol than it is supposed to save.

Our government. It does nothing well.

250 years at what consumption rate and cost of production? Is that 250 years with increasing use of biofuels and hybrid/full-electric cars; or 250 years of using homegrown oil for everything from plastics, to electric plants, asphalt, gas, etc? Not saying your number is incorrect, but without sources and context, the number is meaningless.

RTFQ: $16 per gallon times half the 25,000 gallons, that’s about $200,000 for just the biofuel in this test
The estimated cost of the BIOFUEL, not the entire fuel load.

Good post and sources, TMB. Its about cutting costs over *the long run*. Presently the DoD is the biggest federal expense, of DoD the Air Force is the most expensive, and of the Air Force the AMC Fuel Bill is the most expensive (LtGen Findley, AMC). I am sure the other services have similar fuel expenses.

what you need to realize it that the reason they actually keep pushing continued reliance on fossil fuels is that the infrastructure for mass transport of these commodities has already been paid for. what they won’t tell you is that the reason they wish to keep utilizing these fuel sources is that they make pure profit on distribution via these networks.…until one ruptures and spills oil.

Big-Rick, go look at how long it is taking to clean up some of that North American oil from an American river.…. (major tar sands oil spill). The oil left in the ground is the highly viscous stuff, the stuff you need chemical solvents to get it to run in pipes.….ie hot, poisonous oil sludge crisscrossing our nation. So rich industrialists wont have to build the next centuries infrastructure. Makes me SICK!

good points you brought up here. Most lefties think ethanol is a great idea but they don’t realize how much corn production is taken up by it and it direct affect on soybean reduction, farmers plant more corn less soy beans, soybean production goes overseas and the Brazilian rain forest is plowed over for soybean production.

Secondly, ethanol production has contributed directly to increased food prices across the board, but I guess that’s what the lefties want, higher prices for everyone after all we all can just “eat cake” when we get hungry.

Just because nobody had noticed the obscene price of this fuel doen’t mean the criticism is unwarranted. Biofuels require more energy to create than they contain, so it’s a senseless program at this point. The Navy has a serious mission, and that doesn’t include propping up an artificial demand for a product that cannot survive in the open market. If it had any promise it would attract investors, but instead these companies are going bankrupt or turning to other products to manufacture. Like Solyndra, just more crony capitalism at taxpayer expense.

The exact cost of the algae biofuel is $75.20 a gallon ($5,640,000.00 for 75,000 gallons bought from Solazyme in September of 2010). Each gallon of biofuel displaces exactly one gallon of conventional F-76 naval distillate fuel priced at $2.30 a gallon. Blending is just a way to try to hide the cost. If you blend it in at 50%, it still costs the same per gallon for the biofuel. If you blend it in like alcohol into gasohol at 10%, it just becomes a super high-priced “additive” that still costs $75.20 per gallon. I guess that’s what the Navy is willing to pay to be able to put a “green” label on its ships. After all, it doesn’t cost them anything, it’s taxpayer money, and they get to make political points with their boss.

Well said.

Yes. Liberal. With a CAPITAL L. Whatever that means.

Not really worried about Russia returning to the sea. Have you taken a look at their fleet deployments recently?

If you want to sell it exclusively in the US…which will never happen.

To power modern warships, I expect colloidal coal (clean coal reduced to nano particle sizes, in stable suspension in colloidal mixture with a fluid carrier) could be better developed for use in gas turbines. That would provide strategic advantages of domestic supply and source diversity while being much less expensive than algal biofuel.

Poppycock, basic economics is as supplies increase ultimately prices go down. Which has absolutely nothing to do with this article. The DoD is pushing this as a hedge to provide fuel sources not dependent on unstable regions of the world. It clearly isn’t about price since they are paying an absurd premium for bio fuels. I am simply calling BS where I see it because if the true reason was a secure fuel source we already have it in shale oil, it just doesn’t fit the political agenda. The whole fuel source security line of BS is just that, lots of gaseous bio fuel coming out of their mouths.

Yes. Have you seen their shipbuilding program, including recent construction launches? Russia is now flush with cash from their gas and oil stranglehold on Europe. Don’t rely on lagging indicators.

No, it’s leftish to pursue an ideological — even religious — crusade against oil (not all oil is foreign) that ignores the current market– and science-based reality that fossil fuels are still the highest energy-density and most economically viable energy sources for today and probably tomorrow. If biofuels are economically viable for the future, the free market will drive us there.

Nonsense. There’s pleny of oil–from both foreign and domestic sources. We’re no more dependent on foreign sources for oil than we are for any of the multitude of other critical natural resources we have to import to meet national security needs. Identifying and transitioning to alternative energy sources is important…but it’s not a fix for today’s energy needs. This is a long term objective, not an answer for our present security woes. (Great Green Fleet! Insanity.)

This isn’t “Flat Earth Society” stuff. This is hard-nosed reality. Sure we ought to invest in R&D…but not at the expense of our current security needs. Stop using Defense dollars to chase butterflies!

Note hybrid/full-electric=coal. Fortunately, a mostly domestic fossil fuel, but a fossil fuel nontheless, which doesn’t bother me, since I’m not a Chicken Little global warming alarmist. Just sayin’.

Yes. And increasing energy efficiency is ALWAYS a good long-term objective. So is reducing (or maybe mitigating is a better word) foreign dependence on oil.

The issue is this: given the critical short-term budget crisis and the current force structure problems, what degree of emphasis would you place on R&D to increase energy efficiency.

And yes, I understand that future fuel savings theoretically means more dollars to invest in actual warfighting capability in the future. Theoretically. In the future.

But given the current budget environment, this seems to be a time to shepherd resources for more certain payoffs, rather than speculative investments in green energy. The obvious fecklessness and politicization that has surface in the Solyndra scandal has definitely tainted the well.

Don’t claim to know SECEF Rumsfeld’s current mind, but I don’t see him as cheerleader for the Great Green Fleet!

It’s about priorities. Is it warfighting capability or political butterfly chasing?

You are the 99%.

If you want to complain about tin-eared messaging, I would point out that none of our services have done a particularly good job justifying any of their procurement programs to the public.

It would be far cheaper in the long run to go nuclear powered. Frigates could use the seawolf powerplants while cruisers and transport ships could use the trident powerplants, they have more than enough power to provide the speeds and longevity needed. As a matter of fact if they were to retain the submarine layout in full transfered to a surface hull they would not require a large superstructure leaving more room for weapons and helos while having smaller crews thans current surface warships.

One issue that I have not seen addressed is the issue of LOGISTICS. The question is will biofuels only be manufactured in the USA? If so, will not it be more difficult to get it out to the ships? If we cannot buy biofuel overseas and as we can now do with fossil fuels, that means the fleet will be even more dependent upon an a long chain of tanker ships spanning from the CONUS to the far reaches of the globe were USN ships must operate. The cost of long transport increases the cost per gallon, plus in a time of war, tanker ships would be prime targets for attack.

What’s the lifecycle cost of one of those nukes (to include hiring more engineers)? There was an article around here last month talking about how refitting the nuke on a carrier was going to cost several hundred million dollars. Granted, that’s once every couple decades, but I’m curious how the numbers stack up.

Nuc boats life spans exceed 35 yrs with 1 refuleing,some have gone longer such as the enterprise going 50. Carrier refulings cost more because they have bigger and more reactors (enterprise had numerous, newer ones 2). sub reactors are more compact, thus would be perfect for frigates and cruisers. When you factor in that fuel usage and cost of conventional ships and more frequent overhauls or required system upgrades to provide more electrical power to new systems ( a reactor and its motor generators always put out more power than it needs) and conventional powerplants require more personnel to man and maintain them (you could actualy man a FFGN with 200 personnel vs 300 plus and a cruiser with about 250 to 300 vs over 500 personnel. A reactor fleet would be cheaper in the long run if employed correctly.

@TMB… Here is a link to the study CBO published in May 2011. As you might expect, nuclear powered propulsion becomes more cost effective with larger ships and higher priced oil.

I’d argue in favor of pursuing economies of scale with a 100,000 tonne displacement warship optimized for carrier strike group escort, sharing much in common with a Ford class CVN, including nuke plant, generating plant, propulsion, as much of Ford’s hull design as can be applied, and as many systems as could be shared in common design.

It would be unwise to concentrate a carrier strike group’s defenses into fewer hulls, rather a large ship could combine the capabilities of a guided missle cruiser with that of a carrier strike group’s support ships, including oiler, selective access cargo, ammo, parts/spares logistical support. It could include a large helicopter flight deck and hangar. The displacement, large physical size, and nuke-electric plant could support large powerful radar systems, while providing margin for future systems such a tactical lasers, rail guns, etc.

Simply stick a hose in the Ocean and suck. The spare capacity of the carrier’s reactor supplies the energy necessary to split the brine; to separate the hydrogen from the water molecules. There is no issue of logistics.

Did anyone at the Pentagon do a BCA to see how much money will be spent for this Bio-fuel vs regular fuel over the entire fleet to see if the savings is significant enought to warrent paying for the Bio-fuel especially during these tight budget times?


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