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Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: Military Investments Will Fuel Green Energy Market
The U.S. military should “take the lead” in biofuel use, rather than wait for the commercial sector to make the leap, said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

The Navy’s goal is to shift half its energy usage from fossil fuels to renewable sources by 2020. Critics have cast doubts on these plans, and have questioned the Navy’s assumptions about the future cost of biofuels. Other experts have pointed out that the military, which accounts for less than 2 percent of all U.S. fossil fuel demand, cannot on its own drive the renewable energy market until the United States adopts a national strategy that would generate greater economies of scale.

Mabus disagrees. “I think the military can lead on that,” he told reporters April 27. “The  Navy can be a market … I’m absolutely convinced we can do it.”

The Navy’s energy objectives will not change, regardless of the criticism that they are too idealistic, Mabus said. “I think [they are] realistic,” he insisted.

“From what I’ve seen in the past two years, I’m more convinced now than I was a year and a half ago that we are going to meet them,” said Mabus. He cited recent success stories, such as flight tests that demonstrated fighter jets and helicopters can fly with a 50/50 mix of biofuel and gas. The Navy also is testing biofuels in rigid-hull inflatable boats and a riverine command boat.

“We’ve done a lot,” Mabus said. At Navy facilities, he said, solar power usage will be surging from 2 megawatts to 100 megawatts over the next several years.

To drum up private-sector interest in developing green energy technology for military use, the Navy is reaching out to suppliers and investors, Mabus said. “We’ve been working with venture capitalists, telling them what market we can bring,” he said. “We’re getting a big response.”

Earlier this week, the Department of the Navy and the Pentagon’s Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative hosted potential suppliers at a conference in McLean, Va. Officials heard 33 sales pitches from green energy businesses that made the cut from an initial pool of 160. These companies will seek to fill 50 different energy-related requirements from the Department of the Navy, a Pentagon official told National Defense.

Any measurable progress in shifting to renewable energy will depend on whether military aviation — the Defense Department's biggest consumer of fuel — can make a successful transition to biofuel.

A government-funded RAND Corp. report in January poured cold water on what analysts regard as military biofuel hype. “The use of alternative fuels offers no direct military benefit over the use of conventional petroleum-derived fuels,” the report said. The study, which Navy officials rebuked, said biofuels offer little military value, and the Defense Department could end up wasting millions of dollars with no substantial return.

Much of the outcome, experts note, depend on the price of oil, which is now on the rise, heading toward $130 to $140 per barrel.

The Navy consumes an average of 1.2 billion gallons of petroleum each year at a cost of $3 billion — estimated when gas was $2.50 per gallon. That fuel bill is likely to grow higher next year, as gas prices approach a national average of $4 per gallon. According to a recent contract award, the Navy will spend $8.5 million to acquire 20,000 gallons of algae-based fuel, which comes out to $425 per gallon. At that rate, it would cost the Navy some $142.8 billion for the 8 million barrels of biofuel needed to meet its 2020 goal. Camelina-based fuel is cheaper than algae but still more expensive than petroleum. Two years ago, the Defense Logistics Agency paid $2.7 million for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based fuel — about $67.50 per gallon.

Mabus said he expects biofuel prices to drop by half in the near future. “Just from the small amounts we have bought for testing, the price has been cut in half, and it’s on track to be cut in half again this year,” he said. “And we’re not buying a lot yet. But just that amount of scale is driving the price down.”

One of the technological barriers to greater use of biofuel is that, to be able to power aircraft engines, it must be mixed with conventional jet fuel. The reason aircraft can’t fly 100 percent on biofuel is that it lacks the necessary lubrication properties, Mabus said. “That’s a science problem that can be fixed. Smart people are working on it.”

At an industry conference earlier this month, Navy officials said it is not yet clear that the market will be able to produce the 8 million barrels of alternative fuels annually that the Navy would need to reach its 2020 goal. A Navy-MIT study concluded that biofuels could reach a price point that would make them be cost competitive with petroleum by 2020, said Rear Adm. Philip H. Cullom, director of the Navy’s energy and environmental readiness division. “If there are incentives from government to move things, to scale up in industry, then it could happen much more quickly,” he said.

President Obama last month directed the Navy to work with the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the private sector to create an advanced biofuel market capable of powering not only military fighter jets, but also trucks and commercial airliners.

Mabus said the service’s energy ambitions will not be deterred by skeptics. “The Navy has led in energy change for the last 175 years,” he said. “We went from sail to coal … from coal to oil. … We were the first to go to nuclear,” Mabus noted. “Every single time we changed, people have said it’s not going to work” but they were wrong.

Comments

Re: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: Military Investments Will Fuel Green Energy Market

Algae is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2.  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 univesities 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!
fatalgae at 8/22/2011 9:23 AM

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