Biofuel fans have been following the bio-powered ships and aircraft of the Navy’s Green Strike Group as it tools around the Pacific in this year’s Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise, but advanced biofuel isn’t the only green innovation on display. The Navy is also using the Green Strike Group to show off its new energy efficiency technologies at RIMPAC, which is the largest exercise of its kind in the world.
The Navy’s New Energy Warriors
Three of the ships in the Green Strike Group earned prizes for energy efficiency before they even set off for RIMPAC, through a program called Incentivized Energy Conservation.
i-ENCON is based on rewarding behavior changes that lead to energy conservation, and rewarding innovation from the bottom up.
Aside from saving energy, this kind of approach can have a ripple effect that improves well being. One recent example is the replacement of the humming, flickering old fluorescent bunk lights with high-quality LED lighting. That program began when a sailor reported that the old lights were interfering with rest, and the new lights have been credited with providing a more healthful environment.
The program launched in 1993 and continued under the Bush administration. Under President Obama, it has expanded to embody the “energy warrior” mindset that is beginning to emerge throughout the armed services.
Smarter Ships for the U.S. Navy
Other key energy efficiency elements in the Navy’s Great Green Fleet program are a “smart” Energy Dashboard system that enables the crew to respond more quickly to changing energy demands, and a “Smart Voyage Planning Decision Aid” that advises ships on routes that combine safety with energy efficiency.
A new compressor maintenance system will eliminate the need to burn fuel when engines are shut down and restarted, and ship hulls have been modified to reduce drag and turbulence.
Incandescent bulbs are also on the way out (sorry, Michele!), as ships in the Green Fleet will have lighting provided by energy-efficient LED’s, with a particular focus on replacing incandescent lights as well as older, less-efficient fluorescent lights.
Navy Biofuels in Action
The Navy has been field testing biofuels with great success over the past year, but RIMPAC marks the first major demonstration that military operations can be carried out using biofuel, with no loss of performance.
The RIMPAC tests have been conducted on a 50-50 blend of conventional fuel and algae biofuel supplied by the company Solazyme, as well as biofuel made from used cooking oil supplied by Dynamic Fuels (a Tyson Foods venture with Syntroleum Corporation).
In addition to the performance of biofuels in aircraft and ships, the RIMPAC tests have also been designed to demonstrate the integrity of the fuel infrastructure on biofuel.
That includes refueling a destroyer under way, refueling aircraft in flight and on deck, and the first ever arrested landing of an aircraft onto a carrier using biofuels.
Support Our Troops on Biofuel
In a statement announcing the successful tests, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that “the ability to use fuels other than petroleum is critical to our energy security, because it will increase our flexibility and reduce the services’ vulnerability to rapid and unforeseen changes in the price of oil.”
Unfortunately, instead of cheering for this latest enhancement to our national security, Republican leaders in Congress have spent the months leading up to RIMPAC in an all-out war against the Navy’s biofuel program.
Evidently, the old saw about listening to the generals on the ground doesn’t apply to admirals on the water.
Image: Courtesy of U.S. Navy (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran).
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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+.