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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 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.


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