The U.S. Navy could soon be using ships powered with biofuel made from chicken fat. Fresh on the heels of its largest algae biofuel test ever, the Navy is plunging ahead with plans to launch an entire Green Strike Force comprised of ships and aircraft powered with non-petroleum fuels, and to that end it has commissioned the largest ever purchase of biofuel by the U.S. government. The biofuel will be made from a wide variety of feedstocks including algae and inedible animal byproducts such as rendered chicken fat. It will be assigned to the Navy’s participation in the largest maritime exercise in the world coming up next summer, the Rim of the Pacific exercise off Hawaii.
More Biofuel for the U.S. Navy
The $12 million contract, announced yesterday, covers 450,000 gallons of biofuel, some of which will be rendered into synthetic fuel from nonfood grade animal products courtesy of Tyson Foods, Inc. through a partnership called Dynamic Fuels LLC. Dynamic Fuels can use a wide variety of nonfood feedstocks including rendered chicken fat and other inedible animal fats. Inedible beef tallow and used cooking oil currently dominate the mix.
Biofuel from Non-Food Sources
The Navy has been testing biofuel made from algae produced by the biofuel company Solazyme, which is also included in the contract. The use of non-food sources is consistent with President Obama’s long term biofuel strategy, which promotes growth in the domestic biofuel industry that does not come into conflict with the nation’s food supply. The Navy has also tested biofuel made from the weedy plant camelina, and it has partnered with the departments of Agriculture and Energy in support of developing the U.S. biofuel industry. The partnership was announced during President Obama’s tour through the nation’s agricultural heartland last summer in support of his Administration’s rural jobs and biofuel initiatives.
A High Performance Showcase for Biofuels
The Green Strike Force will not run exclusively on biofuels (it is anchored by a nuclear-powered carrier), but it will demonstrate the performance capabilities of biofuel in a variety of ships and aircraft in real operations. The biofuels will be blended half-and-half with conventional marine and aviation fuels, and the Navy’s tests have shown that the 50-50 blend performs as well as 100 percent petroleum without requiring modifications to engines, fueling procedures, or storage and transportation infrastructure.
Biofuels and National Security
In announcing the new contract, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus emphasized the importance of transitioning to fuels other than petroleum, stating that dependence on fossil fuels “is a very real threat to our national security, and to the U.S. Navy’s ability to protect America and to project power overseas.” In a rousing second, Advanced Biofuels Association President Michael McAdams said:
“Get ready America, because the gallons are on the way as we’re about to make history by leading the world in delivering renewable replacement fuels. Today’s announcement should
effectively silence our fossil fuel detractors as we have yet more proof that advanced biofuels are real and real enough to help better prepare and strengthen America’s armed forces.”
All This and Skin Cream, Too
As a side note, algae biofuel may also help the U.S. kick its dependence on petroleum jelly as a skin care product. Solazyme researchers have discovered that algae makes a pretty nifty skin rejuvenator, which the company markets under the Algenist (what else?) line.
Image: Sailors install slot seals aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, courtesy of U.S. Navy.
Follow on Twitter:@TinaMCasey
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.