The US Department of Defense has been a main driver of the nation’s transition to renewable energy, but so far its use of biofuel in war machines has been limited to demonstration events and exercises. Now the US Navy is gearing up to deploy its “green” ships and planes operationally. Somewhat ironically, this big step forward is taking place in support of the fight to dislodge ISIL from the territory it holds in the Gulf region.
The irony comes in because ISIL’s unique ability — unique among so-named terrorist organizations, that is — to conquer and hold territory has been fueled in part by the petrodollars it receives from oil wells in its field of influence.
One giant green step for the US Navy
Navy LT Ian M. McConnaughey sent an email to me earlier this week with a rundown of the vessels involved in the operation.
The Navy has a strike group operating in the Gulf in support of the war against ISIL, which LT McConnaughey described as the first ever “operationally-deployed strike group to implement the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet initiative.”
The Great Green Fleet is the Navy’s showcase for biofuel, energy efficient technology, and other sustainable energy initiatives (CleanTechnica has covered the Great Green Fleet since its precursor, the Green Strike Group, participated in the 2012 RIMPAC exercise).
With the deployment of the new strike group, the Navy has laid the groundwork for several of these initiatives.
The centerpiece of the group is the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a 38-year-old Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
We’re thinking that the choice of “Ike” to spearhead the Navy’s seagoing sustainability initiatives is no accident. Eisenhower’s history of World War II, Crusade in Europe, includes an observation that petroleum dependency was one of the main drivers of Hitler’s military failure.
The carrier’s main contribution as a showcase for new clean tech is a full makeover to energy efficient LED lighting. That sounds simple enough but this is one of the largest vessels in the Navy. It is a seagoing warren of thousands of individual spaces, each with at least one bulb and often many more.
So far the lighting upgrade has taken about a year and a half, and work was still ongoing when it the carrier got under way to the Gulf earlier this year.
Here’s the breakdown from the US Navy:
…if every light 3rd deck and below was changed to an LED, it would save an average of 934,000 kWh a month. To put that in perspective, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a residential American home only uses an average of 911 kWh a month.
Aside from direct energy savings, the new LEDs also eliminate much of the extra heat shed by fluorescent and incandescent lights. That has a ripple effect on energy savings, especially for a ship heading into a hot climate. The LEDs help lighten the burden on cooling needed for human health and comfort, and for the cool environment required by some of the ship’s sophisticated equipment.
Because LEDs last much longer than conventional lighting, they also offer an important low-maintenance edge that frees up personnel for other critical tasks.
Biofuel for Navy fighter jets
The strike group is also doing prep work for the eventual deployment of fighter jets flying on biofuel. Another vessel in the group, the USS Mason, is ferrying more than 15,000 gallons of standard F76 equivalent jet biofuel to the Gulf.
This particular blend seems designed to showcase the capabilities of source-agnostic biofuel, and it highlights the potential for using reclaimed as well as virgin sources. Some of the biofuel was rendered from used cooking oil, and some was derived from algae biomass.
The biofuel delivery also highlighted the international aspect of the Great Green Fleet. It was delivered at sea to the USS Mason by the Italian oiler Etna.
The figure of 15,000 gallons may not sound like a big deal, but it is when you consider how the global biofuel market provides the US Navy with a whole new range of refueling options.
Here’s Navy Secretary Ray Maybus explaining the significance of the Italian refueling operation:
It’s what we do. Presence. We’re where we need to be and when we need to be there. We’re growing our fleet and we’re doing it pretty dramatically — 308 ships by 2021. We’re going to have that presence. We’re not changing the status quo. Not since World War II have we had a dominant Navy keep the sea lanes open for everybody, not just for us, but for every nation on this earth. That’s what the United States Navy uniquely gives America.
Biofuel also provides the US with an opportunity to choose global alliances without the burden of petroleum supply considerations. For example, the Navy has been supporting Australia’s efforts to ramp up its biofuel industry, with a focus on algae biomass (not for nothing, but I latched on to the Australia connection back in 2012 and Bloomberg finally got the news a couple of months ago. Just sayin’.).
Stay tuned for more news from LT McConnaughey as the strike group performs its duties in the Gulf.
The Navy has also been aggressively pursuing sustainable energy opportunities at its land facilities.
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Photo: “Fireman Nikolas Martin, from Joplin, Mo., converts a light fixture to use energy-efficient LED bulbs in a passageway aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) as part of the ships Great Green Fleet initiative. Ike and its Carrier Strike Group are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Murray)” via US Navy.
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