In October, the U.S. Navy conducted a full power demonstration of an experimental Riverine Command Boat completely powered by a 50 percent algae-based and 50 percent Nato F-76 fuel, which forms a 50/50 blend of hydro-processed renewable diesel known as HR-D.

This follows a similar demonstration of an F/A-18 Super Hornet, “the Green Hornet,” fueled by a 50/50 blend of petroleum-based and camelina-based naval aviation fuel (JP-5) last spring. In both of these tests, the engine performance did at least as well as petroleum-fueled engines.

These alternative fuels tests support the Secretary of the Navy’s efforts to reduce the fleet’s reliance on fossil fuels and are part of a series of progressively more complex tests, evaluations and implementations to unfold in the coming years.

“Energy reform and the new energy economy are not just talking points,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “It’s not a political game. It means lives of our troops. It means making our military better fighters. It means making our country more independent.”

In 2012, a Green Strike Group of U.S. Navy ships will be set to operate locally, and by 2016 the Navy will deploy what it is calling the “Great Green Fleet” composed of nuclear ships, hybrid electric ships fueled by biofuels and aircraft flying on biofuel.

“Going green is about combat capability and assuring the Navy’s mobility,” said Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division, which leads the Navy’s Task Force Energy. “It is not just about natural security; it also strengthens national security. By having reliable and abundant alternate sources of energy, we will no longer be held hostage by any one source of energy, such as petroleum.”

The U.S. Navy operates thousands of aircraft, more than 280 battle force ships and submarines and approximately 200 land installations as well as thousands of land-based vehicles. By 2020, half of the Navy’s total energy, both afloat and ashore, is to come from alternative sources.

In the short term, the afloat fleet’s energy will come from alternative liquid fuels that match the characteristics and performance of conventional petroleum-based fuels due to the relative ease of transitioning to these fuels. Hydro-processed, non-food plant and algal feedstocks, which are renewable and can be produced domestically, will be a primary focus. However, non-petroleum based liquid fuels are not the only alternative fuel sources under development. A Navy prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provides 24-hour mission endurance, high functionality and low heat and noise signatures using zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Land-based Navy operations are to see an overhaul in the energy consumption of its installations as well with half of the energy to come from solar, wind, ocean and geothermal power by 2020. In addition, petroleum use by non-tactical vehicles is to be phased out first. By 2015, the Navy will phase in use of hybrid electric, battery electric and flexible fuel vehicles for at least half of these vehicles.

Released in October, the “Navy Energy Vision” highlighted some of these plans to switch to alternative fuels and energy and the motivations behind them. The report recognized that over-reliance on petroleum is a critical strategic vulnerability for the Navy as well as the nation because it constrains foreign policy, threatens the stability of our economy, jeopardizes national security and contributes to global climate change.

“Our military and our country rely too much on fossil fuels,” said Mabus at an October Pentagon energy security event. “For the military, that dependence has tremendous strategic and tactical implications. Strategically, too much of our oils come from volatile places on Earth. By continuing to buy from these places, we give them a pretty significant say on whether those ships will sail or whether those planes will fly. We have to stop looking at these places for our energy.”

The Navy hopes that by leading the way with alternative fuels and energy, it can spur development in these industries by providing a clear and stable demand signal to producers. While partnering with other large individual users, it hopes to influence capital influx and development within the emerging markets in alternative fuels to move the nation away from its reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels.

Navy biofuels

Sailors stand their post aboard the experimental Riverine Command Boat (RCB-X) as the boat conducts turning maneuvers while being followed by Riverine Command Boat (RCB-1) at the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va. The RCB-X is powered by an alternative fuel blend of 50 percent algae-based and 50 percent NATO F-76 fuels to support the Secretary of the Navy’s efforts to reduce total energy consumption. Credit: U.S. Navy

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