Navy looks to use more biofuel

By:  Steve Brown
Source: Capital Press

The U.S. Navy plans to buy 21 billion gallons of biofuel in the coming years.

At a news conference at Boeing Field, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said biofuel, along with nuclear energy, will power the warships, planes and helicopters of the "Great Green Fleet."

The Navy plans to use alternative fuels in half of its fleet by 2020, he said.

Greenert described recent exercises in the Pacific that demonstrated how biofuel blends easily with current petroleum fuel and can be used with existing tankers, hoses and connectors.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said weaning the country off imported petroleum is critical.

"Energy security is national security," she said. "The Navy faces $30 million extra in fuel costs when oil goes up a dollar a barrel."

Biofuel is even more expensive, according to industry watchers.

According to IndexMundi, which compiles statistical data from multiple sources, the July 31 spot price for petroleum-based jet fuel was $2.19 and has ranged up to $3.26 a gallon this year.

That compares to $15 a gallon the Navy paid earlier this year for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, according to Biofuels Digest.

Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and three members of the U.S. House appeared at the Boeing Field event promoting biofuels, which they say could create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The research on biofuel is in the works. Grants totaling $40 million fund work at Washington State University and the University of Washington seeking more cost-effective ways of producing biofuels from a variety of materials.

New catalytic converters will convert biofuel from several sources: oilseeds, algae, woody biomass from forests, switchgrass, poplars and more, Ralph Cavalieri, associate vice president for alternative energy at WSU, said.

"The next phase is to get scalability," Cavalieri said.

When conversion can happen in massive amounts, the price will come down, he said.