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The US Navy's 'Great Green Fleet'. (Photo: Energy Digital)

Navy arms fleet with algae

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Thursday, May 31, 2012, 22:40 (GMT + 9)

This month, Energy Digital checks in on the US Navy's ambitious initiative to deploy a fleet of warships powered by alternative fuels by 2016. Touted as one of the most effective moves to jumpstart the use of renewable energy in the US military and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" is expected to boost the biofuels industry in the greater commercial market as well.

Along with the Air Force and Army, the Navy has tested and certified a number of ships and warplanes as biofuel compatible to run on a drop-in blend of conventional oil and green fuel that does not require engine modifications. With over USD 500 million invested in the biofuels industry, the Navy hopes to cut its use of fossil fuels in half over the next decade.

Signs of success are already surfacing. In November, in the largest alternative fuel test in history, the Navy's first biofuel-powered ship completed a trip along California's coast, running on a 50-50 mix of petroleum and algae-based fuel produced from Solazyme.

Solazyme's algae-based biofuel. (Photo: Energy Digital)



The fuel burned just like traditional fuel, using the same engines. Later, in March, the Navy's USS Ford sailed over 12,000 mi on the fuel from Washington to San Diego, portraying similar results.

Other companies are working on a wide range of alternative fuel options in the competition to win supplier bids with the DoD's largest oil consumer. Besides San Francisco-based Solazyme, Dynamic Fuels is also one of the biggest players in the programme. The Louisiana-based company sources its fuel from used cooking oil and non-food grade animal fats.

Despite some backlash from Washington, the Navy continues to steadfastly pursue the initiative, insisting that the nation rises above partisan politics in an effort to strengthen the operations of its armed forces. It's not about right vs left, the environment vs big oil; it's about giving its armed forces the tools they need to protect America, the Navy said.

"Alternative fuels for the Navy is not about being green, it's about combat capability," said James Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office, at a recent conference in DC.

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