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Fuel is still nearly five times as expensive as traditional fuel

For better or worse the U.S. military is trying to fight an "army of one" campaign to switch its massive fuel consumption base to domestic biofuels, safeguarding itself from foreign volatility.  And despite some small bills to the U.S. taxpayers the push appears to be working.

Biofuels work pretty much like any production industry -- you produce more, and price per unit drops.  Back in October 2010 the Navy purchased 20,055 gallons of algae biofuel at a whopping cost of $424/gallon.  At the time that was one of the biggest U.S. purchases of a (non-corn ethanol) biofuel to date.

Fast-forward a year and the Navy is back at it.  It's spent a reported $12M USD to get 450,000 gallons of biofuel.  The bad news?  The fuel cost works out to around $26.67 per gallon -- around 6 to 8 times as much as traditional gas.  The good news?  The cost per gallon has plunged by a jaw-dropping factor of 15.9.

Algae Biofuels
A peek at the algae biofuels production process. [Image Source: Solix Biofuels]

While the incredible cost reduction is unlikely to continue at its current pace, the purchase validates something some national security and environmental advocates have been emphasizing all along -- if you produce more, costs will drop.

The latest fuel purchase is a mixture of repurposed cooking oil ("yellow grease") from Tyson Foods, Inc. (TSN) and algae-based oils from Solazyme, Inc. (SZYM).  Tyson is current partnered with a refining company named Syntroleum Corp. (SYNM) in a joint venture called Dynamic Fuels.  The Navy's contract is with Dynamic Fuels, who has signed a subcontract with Solazyme to buy its algal oils for refining, to help fill the large order.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus lauded the purchase as helping to grow the domestic biofuels market.  The fuel will be used to help power the Navy's "green" Carrier Strike Group during exercises in the Pacific Ocean next summer.

Carrier Strike Group
The U.S. Navy's "green" Carrier Strike Group [Image Source: USN]

The Navy, which uses 80,000 barrels of oil a day (3.36M gallons/day), has made the amibitious pledge of getting 50 percent if its fuel from fossil fuel alternatives by 2020.  At current demand levels, that would work out to around 613M gallons of biofuel a year.

It's not alone in that objective.  The U.S. Air Force now has 98 percent of its aircraft ready to run on a biofuel blend (though the allowed amount of biofuel in the blend is application-dependent).

The U.S. Armed Forces accounts for about 2 percent of total U.S. fuel consumption.  Of last year's approximately 4.62 billion gallon, $15B USD fuel budget, 75 percent was used in overseas operations, while 25 percent was utilized at home.

Source: Defense News



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RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By rudolphna on 12/7/2011 11:48:23 AM , Rating: 4
Hunh, well it's interesting that US submarines and AC carriers have been using Nuclear Reactors for decades now. I want you to think up an idea that will produce the necessary power for a large ship, without mining something. Whether it be oil, coal, or Uranium. There really isn't anything, is there?

Nuclear power these days is really as safe as anything else. Are there risks? Sure there are risks but there are risks with anything anymore. Let's be frank, Solar and Wind power CANNOT, WILL NOT, NEVER WILL BE, feasible to power an entire country. EVER. You would need MASSIVE wind and solar farms. It would be outrageously expensive. Nuclear power is cheap compared to solar and wind on a large scale. And then, it's STILL dependent on the weather.

Nuclear power is immune to those worries, and as long as they are operated properly, you shouldn't have nay concerns. My father is a Chief in the USN.What is his job? He is a Nuclear Reactor Mechanic. He's been a Reactor Mechanic for the last 18 years. He works on Submarines.

For submarines, Nuclear power is one of the best ways to go about it. Why is that?
1. Unlimited Range (Must be refueled every 15-20 years)
2. Quiet. Diesel engines are only run in emergency circumstances, and coolant pumps and turbins are actually very quiet. Quiet, so that they cannot be found.
3. Can stay deep. When a Ohio-Class SSBN goes out, it basically dives to greater than 800 feet, and slows way the hell down, and sits there for 3 months. If it was diesel-electric, it would periodically have to come to Periscope depth and snorkel to recharge the batteries. Time consuming, and noisy.


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By sviola on 12/7/11, Rating: 0
RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Fritzr on 12/7/2011 2:15:19 PM , Rating: 3
Don't worry ... usable fusion production is only 10 years out now ... of course it has been 10 years out for at least the last 30 years, but this time they really mean it...Honest!

There are designs available for personal nuclear power. The reactor is buried in the ground and powers just it's immediate neighborhood. Low cost, clean & safe. There are also breeder reactors that turn unusable nuclear waste into usable fuel.

It won't happen though due to fears about nucular powr...


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By TSS on 12/8/2011 3:08:05 AM , Rating: 2
I'm very open when it comes to nuclear power, i do belive it should be the dominant power source... But burying self contained reactors is a bit too much for me. I'd rather keep it above ground. Easyer to actually deal with when something does go wrong. Which never should anyway with strict rules and regulations, but everything eventually breaks down. There have been plenty of nuclear tests we know the enviroment can handle a little radiation. I'm much more worried if the ground water gets poisoned from a direct leak. Atleast in the ocean it can be thinned out because, well, it's the ocean.

On fusion, I saw a documentairy not too long ago where a scientist visited several test sites of different methods and spoke with the scientists in charge. Of course the question of when fusion would be actually feasable came up. Every scientist was asked to give an estimate and most estimated 2035. a few 2040 and 2030, but the general concensus comes down to somewhere around 2035.

It's important to remember each of the steps of fusion have been verified to work. But nobody has been able to keep the entire process actually running let alone gain net energy from it. A quick google on "the longest sustained fusion reaction" gives:

quote:
JET is the only operational machine to observe fusion from D-T (Deuterium-Tritium) reactions. Such fusion reactions have been maintained on JET for around five seconds. Experiments in a device called TFTR in Princeton, USA also observed fusion neutrons from their plasma but TFTR is no longer operational. The next step tokamak (ITER), which has been designed and should be built in the next ten years or so, will demonstrate much more powerful fusion reactions for 5-10 minutes and will, hopefully, provide the stepping stone to commercial fusion powerplants


ITER is the big what if. If it works, fusion works and all our problems will be solved. If it doesn't work... we are screwed. And it's still very much an If. We hope it works, according to our math it should work, but until it's actually built we won't know for sure.


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By StevoLincolnite on 12/7/2011 1:35:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I want you to think up an idea that will produce the necessary power for a large ship, without mining something. Whether it be oil, coal, or Uranium. There really isn't anything, is there?


No there isn't an alternative. I clearly stated that in my post, so we agree.

quote:
Nuclear power these days is really as safe as anything else. Are there risks? Sure there are risks but there are risks with anything anymore.


Funny thing is though... When you're firing missiles at a target with a nuclear reactor... I don't care how "Safe" they make them. You are going to have one go "pop" one day. Hopefully it ain't near my beach. :P

As for Nuclear reactors on land... I never really stated them being unfit or unsafe. I just don't like the fact we are moving from one fuel to another, and the effects that mining for it has.
Uranium ain't going to last forever, you can only mine it out of the ground once.

quote:
You would need MASSIVE wind and solar farms.


For some reason... When people think of green energy, they only think of those two and nuclear. Hows about other sources of power?
Wave, Hydro, Geothermal... Geothermal is probably the one that interests me most. It's a GOOD replacement for nuclear if they get the research in so that they can be built in more places.
Once you have a Geothermal plant operational, they are generally stupidly cheap to add capacity to.

Hydro is limited by location, but hell if they can build it they should instead of a nuclear plant, it also can provide good base load power.

Basically instead of going 100% Nuclear everywhere, they should use whatever green alternative that works best in any given location.

Solar and Wind are to unpredictable, cost to much and don't provide constant power and take up massive amounts of land area.

As for why I got rated down... I don't think my post was "not worth reading". I genuinely placed valid points in my opinion, but such is life.


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Ringold on 12/7/11, Rating: 0
RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Solandri on 12/7/2011 4:12:03 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Wave, Hydro, Geothermal... Geothermal is probably the one that interests me most. It's a GOOD replacement for nuclear if they get the research in so that they can be built in more places.

Geothermal suffers from the same problem as nuclear. People worried about a concentrated risk (of earthquakes) even though the risk compared to the energy generated is smaller than other distributed power sources. It's irrational. When given a choice between two options - one where 1 in 10 people will die, and one in which there's a 10% chance of death for 10 people, people always choose the latter even though there's no difference. For some reason our minds put an irrationally disproportionate amount of weight on the possibility of escaping the situation with no deaths. Or in the case of geothermal, no earthquakes.

So I'm totally in agreement with you that geothermal is the most promising. But since it suffers from the same psychological problem as nuclear, if nuclear ain't happening, then geothermal ain't happening.

quote:
Hydro is limited by location, but hell if they can build it they should instead of a nuclear plant, it also can provide good base load power.

Hydro in the U.S. and Canada is pretty much tapped out. Nearly all the best sites have already been dammed, and building new hydro plants is increasingly coming under scrutiny of environmental impact reviews. I don't see hydro's contribution to the power grid rising significantly in the next 100 years.

quote:
Basically instead of going 100% Nuclear everywhere, they should use whatever green alternative that works best in any given location.

Very few people argue a national 100% nuclear solution. The way I see it, nuclear is (aside from hydro and geothermal) the best of the alternatives we have at present. It should easily tide us over for 50-100 years until we can get fusion reactors working.

The "waste" built up in that time is rather insignificant compared to the fossil fuel pollutants we're spewing into the environment because of the hysteria over nuclear "waste". The total amount of nuclear "waste" the country generates in a year producing 20% of the country's electricity is about one tractor trailer's worth. To generate an equivalent amount of power would require about half a billion tons of coal. That's a bit hard to visualize, but is about 1000-2000 oil tankers full of coal. We want to dump the byproducts of that into the environment each year because we're afraid of dealing with a single tractor trailer's worth of nuclear waste?

(I put "waste" in quotes because it's actually very good fuel for a breeder reactor. The waste repository in Yucca mountain was a good idea because in the future, we would probably want to mine that "waste" to use it as fuel.)

quote:
Uranium ain't going to last forever, you can only mine it out of the ground once.

The beauty of nuclear is that a little of it goes a long, long way. The NS Savannah would have burned approximately 29 million gallons of fuel oil during its ~10 years of operation. Instead, it used 2 gallons of uranium. Yes, that's the difference in power concentration we're talking about. A million to one for the fuel. At the mining/refining level it's "only" about 50,000-100,000 to 1, but the difference is still staggering. You could replace tens of thousands of coal mines with a single uranium mine and still generate the same amount of power. It should easily last us long enough to get fusion reactors operational.


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Dorkyman on 12/7/2011 8:02:38 PM , Rating: 2
Chalk it up to the power of movies like "China Syndrome." Nukes are REMARKABLY safe when compared to any other energy source, including windmills and solar. Seriously--there are numerous studies that look at direct and indirect fatalities due to a particular energy source, and nukes are way, way, down in the noise compared to anything else.

Until the USA does a massive build-up of nukes, we are sitting ducks when the next major war comes about and shipping is blocked.


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By V-Money on 12/7/2011 5:34:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
2. Quiet. Diesel engines are only run in emergency circumstances, and coolant pumps and turbines are actually very quiet. Quiet, so that they cannot be found.


Now, I am a huge proponent of nuclear power, but this is just plain wrong. New diesel subs aren't the same as the ones everyone thinks of, some of the new designs use fuel cells and can spend much more time submerged. An Italian sub came into our port (Italy to CT) fully submerged for the trip. They are much quieter than nuclear subs because they run off of the fuel cells and don't require the coolant flow that a reactor requires (and I've done sound surveys on the entire boat, including coolant pumps, its quiet, but relative to a diesel it can't compare). They also use all modern equipment (i.e. smaller in size, more solid state). Add that to the fact that we are the ONLY country in the world that uses 60hz onboard, and you will find that our greatest advantage is the quality of our crews. The best strategy to use against a diesel sub is to wear them out because they have less crew and most of their watches are port and starboard, whereas nuclear subs are usually 3 section. (We run exercises all the time with our allies).

As for the person you are replying to, he obviously hasn't put in the effort to try and understand how nuclear power works before taking his asinine stance, but hopefully after reading some of these replies he'll have an open mind, do some research, and realize nuclear power is the greenest and safest viable power source we have available today. (Once again, today's reactors aren't the same ones that everyone thinks about, why do people always ignore progress.)


RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Mjello on 12/8/2011 8:38:27 AM , Rating: 2
Well solar is actually viable. 10 % of the federal land of nevada could power the united states.

Cost is up front more expensive pr. kwh than example nuclear.

Factor in 30 year fuel/maintenance on both sides and its cheaper to run a solar.

Sun doesn't shine. Well, there is allready two solar farms in spain using salt heat retention to run nearly 24 hours a day. A full system running 24h is economically viable and technically feasible. Essentially creating a huge battery thaat can be tapped on demand.

But a country will never rely solely on solar. Its just not smart to put all your eggs in one basket. But it could probably do 80% of the work, converting some 10% of desert area to powerplants.

I think the last was a 2 billion project designed to provide peak power demand.

A couple of terms for google if you want to know more.
Nevada solar one
andasol
mohave desert solar energy


By toyotabedzrock on 12/8/2011 12:32:12 PM , Rating: 2
Renewables have already surpassed Nuclear power.
http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/07/renewa...

And there are projects in Europe that will use old mines inside mountains to store water, that can then be released into a turbine for power generation when it is needed.

http://cleantechnica.com/2011/06/20/germany-to-sto...


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