USDA, Navy roll out ‘Farm to Fleet’ program

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Agriculture Department and Navy today announced a “Farm to Fleet” initiative that will, for the first time, make advanced biofuels available to the Navy as part of its regular procurement practices.

Through the initiative, the Navy will seek to purchase jet engine and marine diesel fuels containing 10 to 50 percent advanced biofuels. USDA will assist in funding through its Commodity Credit Corp., which provides loans and financial payments to farmers.

The departments touted the initiative as a way to boost national security and farm incomes.

“The Navy’s intensifying efforts to use advanced, homegrown fuels to power our military benefit both America’s national security and our rural communities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “Not only will production of these fuels create jobs in rural America, they’re cost effective for our military, which is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation.”

The initiative stems from a 2011 memorandum of understanding signed by the departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy to work with private industry to fast-track the development of the advanced biofuels industry. Through the initiative, the departments have awarded millions toward building up the domestic supply of advanced drop-in biofuels, or alternative fuels made from sources other than corn that can be used in existing fuel infrastructure

Through this latest initiative, the Navy will begin soliciting bulk fuels in 2014, with deliveries expected in 2015. The Navy is angling to sail its alternatively fueled “green fleet” in normal operations in 2016. The Navy will collaborate with USDA to hold an “Industry Day” in January 2014 to promote the program.

The Department of Defense has a stated policy of not soliciting bulk fuels until they are cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels. In a statement today, USDA and the Navy projected that advanced drop-in biofuels will be available for less than $4 per gallon by 2016 and reach cost-competitiveness with petroleum-based jet fuel.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has pushed military biofuels, said in a statement that the program would give the Navy an alternative fuel source and lessen the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“A secure, domestically produced energy source is very important to our national security,” Mabus said. “Energy is how our naval forces are able to provide presence around the world. Energy is what gets them there and keeps them there.

Critics of the Navy’s energy program, though, have questioned the wisdom of the Navy’s spending on alternative fuels at a time when the military is facing billions of dollars in cuts over the next decade.

Senate Armed Services ranking member James Inhofe, who has been a chief Senate opponent of the Navy’s energy program, immediately criticized the new initiative in a statement. This summer, the Oklahoma Republican unsuccessfully offered three amendments aimed at curtailing the military’s biofuels program and lifting a ban on the purchase of carbon-intensive fuels during the debate over the 2014 defense policy bill.

“As poverty and hunger continues to expand for a U.S. population suffering from five years of this administration’s failed economic policies, the president should concentrate on lessening the burdens and rewarding farmers who are feeding our nation as opposed to feeding our Naval fleets,” Inhofe said. “This is not about energy independence for the sake of national security but about appeasing his liberal base.”

Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ clean energy program, said the new agreement between USDA and the Navy indicates that progress is being made on the 2011 memorandum of understanding between the government departments.

“It seems like everybody’s moving forward and things are on track,” Cuttino said.

Earlier this year, USDA and the Department of Transportation renewed a multiyear initiative called “Farm to Fly,” agreeing to target funding toward building up the supply chains and infrastructure necessary to support an advanced jet fuel industry (E&ENews PM, April 15).