U.S. Navy to Power its Fleet with Biofuels, with Help from the USDA

April 14, 2010

The U.S. Department of the Navy has set a goal to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels from volatile areas of the world, in part by increasing its use of biofuels. The Navy recently announced five energy targets for the Navy and Marine Corps, and biofuels are a major component of four of those five energy targets. The five goals are: including energy efficiency and the energy footprint in purchasing decisions; by 2012, demonstrating a "Green Strike Group" composed of nuclear vessels and ships powered by biofuels, with a "Great Green Fleet" sailing by 2016 that includes biofuel-powered hybrid electric power systems and aircraft running on biofuels; phasing in flex-fuel, hybrid, and electric vehicles to cut petroleum use in half by 2015 for its fleet of 50,000 non-tactical commercial vehicles; producing at least half of the energy requirements for shore-based installations from alternative sources by 2020, with 50% of all shore-based installations achieving net zero energy use; and meeting half of the Navy's total energy needs for ships, aircraft, tanks, vehicles, and shore installations from alternative sources by 2020. The Navy notes that the costs of transporting fuel has increased exponentially, and in extreme cases, it can cost the Navy up to $400 to deliver a gallon of gasoline to the battlefield.

To meet the Navy's energy goals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Navy are working together to develop advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems. The USDA and the Navy signed a memorandum of understanding on January 21 in pursuit of that goal, and the two departments held an energy forum on April 6 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to advance their partnership. As a result, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research, and the University of Hawaii have agreed to work with the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company on Maui to develop decision tools to assess the most sustainable opportunities for producing advanced biofuels and renewable electricity from sugarcane and other biomass crops grown in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company is Hawaii's largest agricultural operation and its last sugar plantation. See the press releases from the Navy and the USDA.