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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 sviola on 12/7/2011 11:59:12 AM , Rating: 0
Well, when it is available, Fusion would be a cleaner solution than Nuclear, as it does not require mining anything.

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:

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.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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