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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 FITCamaro on 12/7/2011 1:42:50 PM , Rating: 2
So your argument is that a nuclear reactor taking damage from a direct hit is more dangerous than tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel taking a direct hit? Diesel fuel explodes. A nuclear reactor in the Navy will likely shut down. Plus a nuclear reactor is smaller than those tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel reducing the likelihood of taking a hit at all.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Fritzr on 12/7/2011 2:24:30 PM , Rating: 2
He's referring to the reactor being fragmented by battle damage and producing a localized radiation release. This of course is much more dangerous than the depleted uranium artillery rounds that we leave on every major battleground and artillery/tank range.

True the depleted uranium is a low release radioactive, but it is chemically poisonous as well. Not to mention a 'waste' of raw material that could be used by a Fast Flux Breeder to make 'new' reactor fuel.

The risk of a shattered reactor is actually much lower than is the current UBX (unexploded bomb) problem caused by military activity. People are still being killed today by WWII, Vietnam and other 'antique' explosives. However those are not dangerous...the potential risk of a capital ship taking catastrophic damage to the reactor is the real risk to health he is worried about.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By V-Money on 12/7/2011 5:43:32 PM , Rating: 3
The problem with this scenario is containment, the reactor is by far the most protected part of the ship by convention, the shielding requirements alone put enough lead, steel, etc, around it to make it very difficult for anyone to penetrate it. I agree its possible, but if someone is wearing a bullet proof vest, it makes more strategical sense to shoot him somewhere other than the chest. The only realistic scenario would be if it was done purposely, but I don't see the point of anyone going through that much effort for something that would still be relatively uneventful.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Reclaimer77 on 12/7/2011 7:17:35 PM , Rating: 2
He's referring to the reactor being fragmented by battle damage and producing a localized radiation release.

I would like to see the anti-ship weapon that could possibly cause that. Reactors are in the center of the ship surrounded by tons of steel and lead. The reactor itself is withing a containment vessel which is god knows how strong and shielded. Any damage would cause the reactor to scram automatically and seawater would stop a nuclear reaction. So let's put any silliness about nuclear powered ships going up in a mushroom cloud to bed here.

The absolute worst that would happen would be for the ship to break up and the reactor sink to the bottom of the ocean. No fallout and any radiation would be dispersed harmlessly because of the massive amount of water involved relative to the contaminants. There would be ZERO ecological impact or health risk.

If you research this stuff instead of making knee jerk reactions, he would know a ship carrying 40,000 gallons of fuel is FAR more of a potential hazard than a nuclear reactor. It's not even up for debate.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By JonnyDough on 12/7/2011 10:03:13 PM , Rating: 2
There would be ZERO ecological impact or health risk.

I hardly think it would be zero. What if it happened right off the coast? You're kind of a dolt. No offense to dolts.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Reclaimer77 on 12/8/2011 12:34:05 AM , Rating: 2
What kind of capital ship do you know that would be "right off a coast"? By "right" we're talking 5+ nautical miles off a coast at a minimum, in deep water!

Sorry but this discussion is moot. Call people names all you want, this just isn't a real issue.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By FITCamaro on 12/8/2011 7:51:51 AM , Rating: 1
To be fair carriers come in to port at times. But any war we'd be fighting is unlikely to be on our shores. And you don't build a ship around a slight "what if". You build it to fight and do the best job possible at that.

The fact is, our nuclear powered ships are not only far more efficient than diesels, they provide great emergency relief ability because you basically have a mobile nuclear power plant. In disaster relief efforts around the globe we park our nuclear carriers off the coast and provide power to land to help with the effort.

The idea that we shouldn't build nuclear powered ships because "what if the power plant takes a direct hit" is asinine. Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel are far more dangerous and likely to explode and kill the crew. It would take something far larger than a surface to air missile from a plane to get deep into a ship to even have a chance at hitting the reactor itself. First you have to get through the outer hull. Then you have to get through whatever quarters and what not around the reactor. Then you have to actually get through all the shielding around the reactor.

The fact is that nuclear reactors run by the Navy are run better than nuclear power plants. We have a nuclear power school here in Charleston and I personally know a few guys that work there. They have no qualms at all about working with and around a nuclear reactor. If they don't have a problem with it, some liberal pussy shouldn't either.

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Warren21 on 12/9/2011 5:28:08 AM , Rating: 2
Nuclear debates aside, I think this is a little naive:

"And you don't build a ship around a slight "what if". You build it to fight and do the best job possible at that."

Ideally, in a land of magic rainbows and bunnies, this is how military equipment is designed and purchased. In reality, it boils down to dollars and government approval. Everything is a compromise, and the biggest compromise of all is usually "price effectiveness" over "combat effectiveness".

That being said, the U.S. military is one of the best-equipped militaries in the world (arguably THE best).

RE: A Real Green Strike Force
By Spuke on 12/7/2011 2:26:58 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention, you'll be out in the middle of the ocean when said reactor were to take a hit and, worse case, the reactor can be filled with ocean water. That said, if someone is sinking aircraft carriers, we have MUCH bigger problems.

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