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Aviation Biofuel for Navy Green Strike Group

Published on July 23rd, 2012 | by Tina Casey


Navy’s Green Strike Group is All That and Energy Efficient, Too

July 23rd, 2012 by  

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.

Biofuel for Navy Green Strike Group

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).

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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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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  • Cl1ffClav3n

    Navy energy conservation initiatives are great.  Navy advocacy of biofuels is lunacy. Don’t confuse political appointees running the military (e.g., the Secretaries of Defense and the Navy) with the uniformed military. Also don’t confuse retired military officers working as paid lobbyists for ACORE or the Truman Project Operation Free or SAFE, or those with huge financial stakes in Growth Energy or Solazyme or Gevo with true representatives of the active duty rank and file military.  The admiral at sea wants fuel he can get at any port with the energy density to get him across oceans on a single fill-up, at a price that leaves him money for sailors and gunpowder.  Biofuels don’t fill that bill today, and for a host of reasons previously discussed on this blog, won’t fill that bill tomorrow or ever.  The military members with science degrees are figuring this out.  It would be nice if the political appointees and Congress did as well.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Right Cliff.  The Navy is stupid.  (Or someone else is?)

      Get biofuels up and going and their costs drop as the price of fossil fuels rise.  The Navy saves money and removes the problem of having our oil supply routes cut during conflict.  Plus removes the need to defend those supply lines because we would have alternative supplies.

      Wonder who’s thinking the long game here?

      • Cl1ffClav3n

        I detected sarcasm in your reply.  The long view is no better than the short view.  The U.S. military has purchased 1.3 million gallons of biofuel since 2007 at an average price of $48 per gal while the price it pays for of petroleum fuels has never risen above $2.50 (today’s military cost for JP-8 jet fuel is $2.32 per gallon). These liquid biofuels require huge amounts of energy and hydrogen and carbon from fossil fuels to create (fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, farm machinery fuel, fermentation, distillation, hydrotreatment).  The total energy input is greater than the energy output in the liquid fuel product.  Because of this negative energy balance, making biofuels actually accelerates our use of fossil fuels and increases our dependence upon foreign oil. Because crop-based biofuels are parasites of fossil fuels, their price has always been and always will be higher than the price of oil. And because they also compete with food crops for land and water and fertilizer and equipment and labor, they are also subject to the volatility of international agricultural markets, as well as the vagaries of the weather (stand by for the price spike from this year’s record drought and the loss of 20M bushels of corn so far).  The CO2 from burning down forests to make crop land, and all the farming 
        agri-chemical byproducts like nitrates and nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 298 times worse than CO2) increase environmental damage and global warming emissions more than the amount avoided by subsequent use of the renewable fuel. The politicians and pundits falling for the green and clean myth of Biofuels are leading us down the path of economic self-destruction, water depletion, food competition, deforestation, and increased lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. There are multiple recent studies from RAND and the National Academy of Sciences and many universities that are painting a much darker picture of biofuels than the Malibu Institute of Technology or the Encyclopedia Mainstream Media.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Where did you get your crystal ball Cliff?

          The one that tells us that biofuels will never work and that we must be dependent on petroleum?

          Are you aware that solar panels used to cost over $100/watt and they are now below $1/watt?

          Have any clue what hard drives cost per gig about three decades ago?  Try a quarter million per gig. Now they are something like a dime per gig.

          Biofuels are expensive now.  That does not mean that they will stay expensive.  

          Crop based biofuels are likely a bad idea.  Algae or crop/timber residue biofuels are a different story.

          The military is doing what it often does, paying a lot for relatively small quantities in order to drive markets and encourage development.

          • Cl1ffClav3n

            Biofuels is trying to make fuel from fuel.  It is an attempt at perpetual motion.  You don’t need a crystal ball, just a decent STEM education.  If your question is sincere, than here is how to confirm this for yourself.  All we need to do is follow the hydrogen. Hydrogen is the
            principle energy carrier in all our liquid fuels. All the hydrogen in
            conventional fuels comes from the ground in the source crude oil or natural
            gas. Some of it is consumed along the way to pay the costs of production, but
            for every liter or BTU consumed, between 8 and 24 make it into the fuel tank.
            The energy return on investment (EROI) for gasoline and diesel have oscillated
            between 8:1 and 24:1 since 1920. EROI is a key metric that essentially
            describes how much our primary energy sources can contribute to the health and
            wealth of our nation. Biofuels, on the other hand, require hydrogen to be added
            at multiple steps: fertilizer (pure anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is the fertilizer
            of choice for corn), petroleum-derived herbicides and pesticides, and hydrotreating,
            which is essentially injecting pure hydrogen to up-convert alcohols and esters
            (bioethanol and biodiesel) into true hydrocarbon drop-in fuels. Where does all
            this hydrogen come from? Petroleum! In addition, biofuels have very steep
            processing costs that fossil fuels don’t, including cultivation, irrigation
            water, huge algae pond water circulation and centrifuging, kraft process
            cellulose separation from lignin, truckloads of genetically engineered enzymes,
            distillation of 96% water content, etc. These energy costs can either be paid
            by the product fuel or by additional injects of petroleum, but either way, the
            EROI is further reduced. Ethanol EROI is a pitiful 1.25:1. Cellulosic ethanol
            EROI is 3-5 times worse–well below unity, which means it takes more fuel to
            make than it yields–which is why it is always ‘5 years away.’ There is
            probably not a single politician or government agency head, including Dr. Chu,
            who is truly informed about hydrogen mass and energy balance in biofuels, and
            that is why billions of taxpayer dollars have been squandered on this fiasco in
            a vain attempt to get drop-in biofuels below outrageous prices like $26.75 a
            gallon.  Amyris and Gevo have finally
            figured this out and abandoned biofuels for industrial chemicals and animal
            feed.  Here’s an abbreviated body count
            of some who failed to learn this lesson: Verasun, Cello, Range Fuels, Choren, Pacific
            Ethanol, Cascade Grain, Renew Energy, Bionol, Clean Burn Fuels, etc., ad
            nauseum, with Sapphire, Iogen, and more teetering on the edge. 

          • Bob_Wallace

            Your post breaks down with the first sentence…

            “Biofuels is trying to make fuel from fuel.”
            There is nothing to indicate  that biofuels cannot be produced from non-food crops grown with no petroleum inputs.

            Consider algae-based biofuel which could be grown in ponds on land unsuitable for crops and harvested/processed using renewble electricity as the energy input.

            Or a perennial plants such as switchgrass grown on marginal lands, harvested and processed with an electricity input.

          • Cliff Claven

            [System won’t let me reply to you, so I’ll reply to my comment. . .]

            Bob, keep reading past the first line.  The thing that keeps all those fantasies from working is EROI.  If you want to snack on algae as food, you can get a modest return..  If you want to make it into biodiesel, or even worse, true hydrocarbon drop-in diesel, then you must pour in tons of external energy and you will get out less than you put in–by a large margin.   This is why algae fuel is $60 dollars a gallon and cellulosic ethanol is always 5 years away.  (Before you pounce, only a small undisclosed fraction of the recent $26.75 a gallon Navy biofuel purchase was Solazyme algae oil.  Most of it was Tyson chicken fat.  The lowest price for pure Algae biostock fuel was $61.33 in 2009.)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Cliff, can you grasp the concept of lower prices as technology develops?  That’s critical to the discussion.

            Are lower prices guaranteed?  Of course not.

            Does it make sense to make predictions based on prices not dropping.  Also, of course not.

            Now, do you understand that fuel for airplanes might have a lot more value than fuel for ground-based transportation once ground-based has moved to cheap and plentiful electricity?

            And can you make the next step to a possible time at which we can make liquid fuel for air travel out of non-petroleum inputs?

            Even if that liquid fuel was much more expensive than petroleum-based fuel we might make the decision to go that route.  Climate change could drive the decision.  Or falling/restricted petroleum supplies could drive the decision.

            Your arguments fall within the “man will never fly”  and “the car will never replace the horse” universe.

          • Cl1ffClav3n

            Is there anyone on CleanTechnica that understands the laws of thermodynamics? If a process has a net negative energy balance, then scaling it up just digs a bigger hole.  We can’t confuse economies of scale bringing prices down with getting a free lunch from the universe.  Burning straight dried biomass can yield a little positive net energy–but not good transportation fuel.  The most energy-productive of biomass feedstocks to liquid fuels yield bioethanol and biodiesel alcohols and esters at barely break even EROIs, and require massive amounts of fossil fuel hydrogen and carbon from natural gas and petroleum to be input as fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, distillation heat, etc.)  Further transforming these products into true hydrocarbon drop-in fuels such as jet fuel and true diesel requires direct injection of pure hydrogen from natural gas and drives the EROIs well below 1:1.  Liquid biofuels are parasites of fossil fuels.  Their price tracks with oil and will always be higher than oil.  Filling up today on E85 will cost you 30 cents more per gallon than premium corrected for MPG.  Stop waiving your hands and parroting the PC Press and the Malibu Institute of Technology and do some research and thinking for yourself.   

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gosh, yes, Cliff.

            Do you understand economics? Life is not based on EROI.

            Can you grasp the fact that liquid fuel might have a high enough value to cause it to be useful even if the energy invested exceeded the energy it provided?

            It might make great sense to input 5x as much cheap wind/solar energy as an airplane could extract from the resulting liquid fuel if there was no cheaper alternative.

          • Cl1ffClav3n

            @Bob Wallace and anybody else that doesn’t understand:  Life, does in fact, absolutely depend upon EROI, and it must be many times higher than 1:1, not fractionally higher, to sustain life.  The same is true scaled up from individual organism to civilization. Modern civilization has been empirically measured to need a minimum primary energy EROI of 6:1 or it dips into recession. To get an understanding of how thermodynamics and biology intersect, I would recommend
            Kooijman, S. A. L. M. Dynamic Energy and Mass Budgets in Biological Systems. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s the problem, Cl1, you don’t know when to use EROI and when it doesn’t apply.

            Clearly there are applications in which the form of energy is more important than the input costs. 

            (I doubt you’ll understand that, so we’ll hear more drivel from you.)

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