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Biofuels navy tests algae biofuel on decommissioned destroyer

Published on November 29th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Navy Conducts Its Largest Algae Biofuel Test Ever

November 29th, 2011 by  

navy tests algae biofuel on decommissioned destroyerThe U.S. Navy has quietly tested 20,000 gallons of algae biofuel on a decommissioned destroyer, carrying on its mission of transitioning to renewable energy even as the end phase of the fossil fuel era begins to play out. Though oil fields are booming in the western U.S., the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline has stalled and natural gas drilling  is roiling communities in other regions. Fossil fuels will be with us for a long time to come (we still burn wood, right?), but with the Defense Department giving them the cold shoulder they are on their way to marginalization.

A Big Test for Algae Biofuel

The new test involved a decommissioned destroyer reconfigured as a remote-controlled test ship, sailing out of NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego. The idea was to see if a 50-50 blend of algae biofuel and standard marine petroleum fuel could be used as a drop-in replacement, without the need for any special equipment or procedures. As explained by the Logistics Center’s fuel officer, Cmdr. Frank Kim:

“We use the same types of trucks, hoses and other pierside equipment to transfer the fuel, and no modifications are required either from a fueling perspective or on the shipboard side. It’s going to be pretty amazing to see where these fuels take us in the future.”

A New Green Fleet for the U.S. Navy

The test is part of the Navy’s Green Fleet initiative, which calls for shipping out an entire fleet running on alternative fuels by 2016, with a locally-operating Green Strike Force in the water by 2012.  The fleet will also rely on nuclear energy which may disappoint some clean energy fans, but after all this is the military and the Navy’s main goal is to keep itself at peak fighting capability.

Support Our Troops…With Alternative Energy

Despite the efforts of some Republican legislators to resist integrating the U.S. renewable energy industry into the national defense landscape, the Department of Defense is full-on committed to freeing itself from the logistical and financial constraints of an outdated fuel supply. That’s nothing new or controversial given the U.S. military’s long running tradition of glomming on to cutting edge technology. For that matter, an entire branch of the armed services – the Air Force – was birthed by transformational technology just a few generations ago. Take away the oil-fueled politics and all you have is the Pentagon’s need to stay one jump ahead of the competition.

Image: Navy algae biofuel test, Some rights reserved by Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • Guest

    Again, this is not a solar discussion article. If you want somethe facts, I have already told you where to find it. You can also call any US solar panel association who will also confirm solar companies not make it without government subsidies. As a ex-government worker you should realize by now that you can’t base a business model based on a subsidy.

    Between the Chinese solar panel surplus in 2008 and an industry that cannot live without a government subsidy the solar industry was destined to fail. Why don’t you stop with your ‘bullying comments’ and do some research.

  • Guest

    This article is about algae and alternative fuels not solar panels. If you want to find the information on solar panel inventory surplus you can find it by cantacting the Bookings Institute, Washington. The conference was held at Jan. ’08 CISM Int. Technology Conference, Bejing.

    • Anonymous

      In other words – you can’t back up your claim.

      Thought so.

  • Guest

    Based on your comments, you must be a government employee. Only the government believes in researching something for 50 years and have nothing commercialized. According to the Brookings Institute and CISM, Bejing China 3 years ago, annonunced a major ‘surplus’ of solar panels in China. Huntsmann and Gore were both present when the comments were made. Too bad the DOE did not do any do any due diligence on Solydra.

    Both Chu and Sandolow have sold out the US by giving US technology to China. Isn’t that an breach of national security?

    • Anonymous

      Sorry. Last time I worked for the government was 1979.

      Based on your comments you must be a bit slow to breakfast.

      Give us some proof of your claim, not an offhand comment about something that might have been said by a right wing propaganda tank.

      Give us a reliable source of significant surplus numbers of panels and an offer to sell at a price significantly below current market prices.

  • Guest


    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completed. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous! There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results!

    The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at universities for another 50 years?

    In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!

    • Anonymous

      Guest – you think we are impressed by your use of capital letters?

      We’re not.

      Do you not know the history of research and technology development? Lots of ideas don’t work but some do. There is no way to know what will work or not work until the research has been done and the ideas tried.

      The US taxpayer spends well over $2.5 billion dollars per day on imported oil, oil wars and the health and environmental damage caused by burning coal.

      Per day.

      Spending one day’s dollars wasted on fossil fuel to find an alternative to avoid that more than $1 trillion dollars per year is a tiny investment with incredibly huge potential payoff.

      $ trillion per year. One thousand billion. 400 times more in one year than what we’ve spent on algae-fuel research in 50 years. 20,000 times more per year.

      You are totally correct that in business you are not given 50 years to research anything. And that’s why we have to do the heavy lifting of
      research with government money. Private industry will simply do what is
      cheapest/most profitable at the moment.

      I challenge you to find a single technology which you use which was not
      built on top of government-funded research. Don’t even dare suggest
      computers, the internet, GPS, cell phones, modern medicine, air travel,
      plastics, ….

    • Guest

      I do know that in business you are never given 50 years to research anything! You are not even given 5 years, let alone 5 months. Why do you think the DOE is currently being investigated on individual grants and loan guarantees? Researchers should be held accountable. Recipients need to sign statements of perjury. Ultimately, Chu is responsible.

      Researchers have no interest in commercializing anything. They love to live off of grant money. That is why $700 – $900 billion are being cut from the DOE budget.

      • Anonymous

        Guest – that’s total bull.

        Private companies carry on research for years. But they generally don’t do the basic research that has made America a world leader in new technology.
        University researchers commonly form private companies to commercialize their findings. Universities and the government get payback through licensing agreements.

        Your knowledge pool is very shallow. Nothing more than a gleam of moisture on an otherwise empty void.

        The reason that the DOE is being investigated it that Republican in the House of Representative are looking to score political points for the upcoming election cycle. Pure and simple.

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  • Cliff Claven

    The Navy has paid $425 a gallon for this algae fuel. The DLA-Fuels contract for $8.5M to Solazyme of San Francisco for 20,000 gallons of algae diesel fuel is on the official Feb Biz Ops web page under solicitation BAA040008. The Navy also bought 1,500 gallons of Solazyme jet fuel for aircraft testing for only $149/gallon under solicitation SP0600-09-R-0704. Solazyme is also simultaneously getting $110M from DOE (Dr. Chu of the Solyndra debacle) for R&D, so the true cost of the fuel is still even higher. The lowest price currently being paid by the US Military for biofuels is $67/gallon, while normal military/commercial fuels (F-76 diesel oil and JP-8/Jet A-1 jet fuel) are less than $3/gallon! These are your tax dollars at work when we are cutting people and equipment to try to balance record budget deficits.

    • Matthew Schattner

      Change needs to happen. We cannot survive on a finite fuel source. China and not Dr. Chu are to blame for the Solyndra debacle, by the way. Changeover is not always as smooth as we would like it to be, just hang in there. Viva renewable and clean energy!

      • Anonymous

        And gasoline certainly wasn’t cheap when we first started testing and using it.

    • Anonymous

      You certainly named yourself appropriately, Cliff.

      New tech is generally very expensive. You know anything at all about the price history of computers?

      As tech matures prices drop. With algae fuel we have the possibility of making it cheaper. We have no option with oil, it will get more expensive.

      The US military totally understands that oil is going to become more and more of a problem as time goes on. That’s why they are working right now to find alternatives. Just like they’re installing solar and wind generation to cut their fuel usage.

      (And Dr. Chu is not responsible for Solyndra’s failure. You need to quit sucking the Fox pipe. It rots brains.)

      • Lou Gage

        Bob, You are correct about Dr. Chu. However, as Harry Truman is reported to have said ” The buck stops here.” Dr. Chu is head of DOE and DOE staff knew about the failure of the technology even as they approved taxpayer money ( placed behind private investors) for the firm. Yes, private firms gamble with investors money but Chu’s funds are not private nor his. They are the US taxpayers and DOE needs to be very careful where research funds are placed. This Solyndra failure played into anti green forces tarring the whole movement. As a “green” person I blame the President for the setbacks. It is only fair as if this was a success he or any other politican would take the credit. Lou Gage

        • Anonymous

          Lou, Solyndra was a winner when it was funded. Solyndra was operating in an environment of expensive solar panels and it was putting solar on flat commercial roofs at a better price than flat panel.

          Soon after funding the price of flat panels fell like a rock. Absolutely no one was predicting this abrupt change in prices.

          Are you going to condemn someone for not possessing a crystal ball in order to know the unknowable?

          • Guest

            When the DOE did due diligence, they overlooked the fact that the Chinese have had a surplus of solar panels for the last 3 years.

          • Anonymous

            Show me proof that the Chinese had a surplus of panels for the three years prior to the granting of the Solyndra loan guarantee.

            And that those panels were cheaper than Solyndra’s product, fully installed.

    • Guest

      US military paid $430 per gallon at a cost to produce at $400 per gallon. Are you kidding?

      • Anonymous

        In the early 1980s I paid the about $8,000 (2010 dollars) for a 30 meg hard drive. That’s $266,667 per gig. I can now buy a gig of hard drive storage for $0.09 or less.

        We’re at stage one with algae fuel. It’s now been made. The next task will be to see if it can be made cheap enough to use on a wide scale basis.

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