Barack Obama’s administration has backed the use of biofuels in powering its military, seeing it as a chance to immune itself from sharp fuel price fluctuations, especially after the Navy’s successful test of the technology.
But despite their efforts, the US Congress could stop the Defense Department from investing in alternative fuel until the price has become competitive to conventional sources.
Alternative Biofuels The Navy has made its first attempts in “going green” in 2009 and made tests on the jet engines on the biofuel mix in 2010. However, the project was questioned in 2011 when the Navy reportedly spent USD 450,000 on biofuels (composed of chicken fat and algae), costing around USD 15 per gallon, which is quite expensive compared to the USD 3.60 for the usual fuel.
The plan was met with strong criticism for its being very costly. Moreover, the Department of Defense was reportedly obliged to implement budget cuts by reducing the number of its personnel, aircraft, ships and important military programs.
McCain insists the program is simply too expensive, saying “I was just reading, it’s the cost of one destroyer – $1.8bn extra – they want to spend on this green technology. The fact is, I just do not believe that we need to spend that kind of money on it.”
“Absolutely it was worthwhile to show that biofuels can compete and can be used in every single thing that we do in the navy. This shows that it’s operational. Everything before now has been a test. This shows we can use biofuels and other alternative energies in an operational manner,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Mabus is trying to reassure Republicans that there will be no big purchases of such biofuel until the time it becomes cost-competitive with conventional aviation fuel.
As they said, they only have to find a way to get local-made fuel which has a stable price and could be competitive with the usual oil.
Mabus also said that the test exercise will prove for the first time that aircraft carriers and jets can run with advanced biofuel as their energy sources.
For the carrier strike test, the Navy bought 450,000 gallons of alternative fuels amounting to USD 12 million (USD 27 a gallon) but because they were mixed with the conventional petroleum in a 50-50 blend, the final cost is roughly USD 15 a gallon. A strike force of 71 jet fighters, transport planes and helicopters set off on a demonstration flight off Hawaii this week using the biofuel mix.
Mabus added, “It was worthwhile to show that biofuels can compete and can be used in every single thing that we do in the Navy. Everything before now has been a test. This shows that we can use biofuels and other alternative energies in an operational manner.”
The modern biofuel used in the Navy vessels is a combination of cooking oil and algae made by Dynamic Fuels of Lousiana and Solazyme of San Francisco.
After the seemingly successful test exercise, the secretary of agriculture announced that the next stage would be to foster a local biofuel sector that is making fuel from inedible plant parts and other non-food stocks.
Mabus said that the Navy is still pushing through its aim of using alternative fuel for half of its requirements by 2020.