Biofuel blend powers Navy’s Great Green Fleet deployment

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2016

After years of planning, the Navy’s Great Green Fleet has finally set sail today, deploying from San Diego’s Naval Air Station North Island.

Powered by fuels made from Midwestern beef fat, the vessels in the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group are the first in naval history to run on biofuels.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was on the pier as the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale pushed off.

“For the ships and the Sailors onboard, there will be no noticeable difference, but this deployment is what leading the way in advancing our capabilities looks like, and I am certain the Navy and Marine Corps will continue to lead, with their eyes on the horizon, as the greatest expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known,” he said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “I could not be more proud of the immense accomplishments the Department of the Navy has made in an area that will be increasingly critical to our operations.”

The Great Green Fleet is one of six major initiatives Mabus announced when he was appointed secretary in 2009. He has championed alternative energy as a means of weaning the Navy off its reliance on foreign oil (Greenwire, July 19, 2012). The Department of Defense is one of the largest users of fossil fuels globally, and Mabus has often noted that during the war in Afghanistan, one Marine was killed for every 50 fuel convoys.

The initiative is named after President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, which established the United States’ military prowess globally in the early 20th century.

“The goals I set were not about making us ‘greener,’ though that is an added benefit — they were and remain about making us better warfighters,” Mabus said. “Optimizing our energy use is a force multiplier, increasing our capabilities, our impact and our endurance across platforms and disciplines.”

The USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is being powered by biofuels provided by California-based AltAir Fuels. The company won the Defense Logistics Agency’s first-ever contract for biofuels in September as part of a competitive bidding process that included traditional diesel fuel suppliers.

The Navy is paying roughly $2 per gallon for the 77 million gallons being supplied by AltAir Fuels. The Department of Agriculture chipping in an additional 14 cents.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was also on hand for the deployment today, applauded the Navy’s leadership in renewable energy.

“Today’s deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste, and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America,” he said.

The fuel provided by AltAir is a blend that is 10 percent biofuels, though Navy officials say future blends could increase that amount. The carrier strike group is also employing energy conservation measures like LED lighting and energy-efficient operational procedures.

The Navy initiative has been a contentious issue in Congress, with lawmakers trying to limit the use of biofuels in various legislative markups over the past five years (E&E Daily, April 30, 2015).

Mabus took the opportunity today to tell “the naysayers” that they had been mistaken, saying, “We have never been a nation to shy away from such bold ambition.”

“A foreign chief of Navy once said that the difference between soldiers and sailors is that soldiers look down at maps and they see obstacles, but sailors look to the horizon and they see opportunity,” he said.

Following the ceremony in San Diego, Mabus said he was planning to fly to the USS William P. Lawrence destroyer in the Pacific Ocean to be on deck as it refueled with biofuels for the first time.

But Mabus stressed that while powering the Navy with biofuels is historic, using them “will look no different than our regular routine” and does not require sailors to do anything differently than they would on a traditionally fueled ship.

“This may be the most formal ceremony I’ve attended to celebrate everyday operations,” he said. “And that is exactly the point.”