US Navy Test Algae Powered Vessel


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Feel free to move this to the Naval forum but this caught my eye today:

US navy completes successful test on boat powered by algae

American navy sails towards sustainability with biofuel-powered gunboat

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

A machine producing biodiesel from algae, a fuel type used to successfully power a US gunboat for the first time. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/ Ashley Cooper/Corbis

It looked like a pretty ordinary day on the water at the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia: a few short bursts of speed, a nice tail wind, some test manoeuvres against an enemy boat.

But the 49ft gunboat had algae-based fuel in the tank in a test hailed by the navy yesterday as a milestone in its creation of a new, energy-saving strike force.

The experimental boat, intended for use in rivers and marshes and eventually destined for oil installations in the Middle East, operated on a 50/50 mix of algae-based fuel and diesel. "It ran just fine," said Rear Admiral Philip Cullom, who directs the navy's sustainability division.

The tests, conducted on Friday, are part of a broader drive within the navy to run 50% of its fleet on a mix of renewable fuels and nuclear power by 2020. The navy currently meets about 16% of its energy and fuel needs from nuclear power, with the rest from conventional sources.

The navy plans to roll out its first green strike force, a group of about 10 ships, submarines and planes running on a mix of biofuels and nuclear power, in 2012, with deployment in the field scheduled for 2016.

The green trend runs across all military services. The air force has been testing jet engines on a mix of conventional fuels and camelina, a crop similar to flax, and the Marine Corps recently sent a company to Afghanistan's Helmand province equipped with portable solar panels and solar chargers for their radio equipment.

Fuels made from algae oil burn more cleanly than fossil fuel, but preventing climate change is not a major factor in the Pentagon's calculations. "Our programme to go green is about combat capability, first and foremost," Cullom said. "We no longer want to be held hostage by one form of energy such as petroleum."

Over the last year, the Pentagon has become increasingly vocal about the burden of running oil convoys in battle zones. Fossil fuel is the number one import to US troops in Afghanistan, and the slow and lumbering convoys of oil tankers are an obvious target for enemy combatants.

Fossil fuels are also horrendously expensive. By the time it reaches a war zone, the true cost of a gallon of petrol is well over $400.

In theory, biofuels can be produced wherever the raw materials are available, possibly even in the combat zone. However, Cullom admitted that, as of today, algae-based fuels are no bargain. The current cost of a gallon of algae-diesel mix is $424 a gallon. "Any time you are an early adopter, it's not going to be $3 a gallon," he said.

The early versions of algae-based fuels had a short shelf life, with the fuel separating in the tank, sprouting, or even corroding engines. "They had some not very good characteristics at the end of the day," he admitted.

But the navy appears committed. Last month it placed an order for 150,000 gallons of algae-based fuel from a San Francisco firm.
Surging price of oil forces US military to seek alternative energy sources

Fiscal reality is dawning as US jets and warships trial alternative fuels in bid to end military's costly dependence on oil

• US navy completes successful test on boat powered by algae

US Marines south of Baghdad in April 2003. The US military used an estimated 800,000 barrels a day during the conflict. Photograph: Wally Santana/AP

It's a secret just how much oil the US military uses, but estimates range from around 400,000 barrels a day in peacetime – almost as much as Greece – to 800,000 barrels a day at the height of the Iraq war.This puts a single nation's armed forces near Australia as an oil consumer and among the top 25 countries in the world today.

Either way it is by far the world's largest single buyer of oil and the last thing any admiral, general or under secretary of defence has had to be been concerned about is whether there's gas in the tanks or that the navy's carbon emissions are a bit extravagant.

But there are signs of change. Every $10 rise in the price of oil costs the gas-guzzling US air force around an extra $600m each year. Just keeping one US soldier in Afghanistan with the world price of oil at $80 a barrel now costs hundreds of dollars a day in fuel alone. And because the US as a country imports more than $300bn worth of oil a year, fiscal reality is dawning. The US military spent around $8bn in 2004 on fuel, and probably twice that last year. Surging world fuel prices are likely to put the brakes on the US oil war machine as much as political opposition.

The military knows this. Earlier this year a Joint Operating Environment report from the US joint forces command predicted that global surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be a shortfall of nearly 10m barrels a day by 2015.

"Peak oil", said the generals, would impact massively on the US and other economies, and the US military would be compromised. Meanwhile Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander in Europe, has argued strongly that America's addiction to foreign oil is unsustainable and, by extension, the military's $20bn a year spend on oil and other energy must be reconsidered.

The military answer has been to obey former President Bush and look to home. The navy's decision to convert one ship to algae-based biofuel echoes a US Air Force plan to create a massive synthetic-fuel industry to provide the military with guaranteed, secure homegrown supplies. One idea is to turn America's abundant supplies of coal and biofuel crops into liquid fuel, just as the Nazis did in Germany when its oil supplies were cut off during the second world war. Tests are now being conducted and the first of 6,000 navy jets are expected to fly with it next year.

Coal-based synthetic fuels, and biofuels – from both algae and crops such as corn – are now strong contenders to replace the fuels that the military uses to power its tanks and jet engines, says the Department of defence . But the search for more affordable, cleaner-burning alternative fuels is not driven by environmental concerns and there are massive drawbacks. Coal is not just one of the world's prime drivers of man-made climate change, but also air pollution and acid rain.
Further info can be found elsewhere:

Soladiesel Successful in Navy Riverine Command Boat - Domestic Fuel

US Navy Tests Boat Powered by Algae

Okay it's just a small craft at the moment but the concept makes viable sense, indigenous fuel manufacture that redues dependence on oil from foreign states.

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