The U.S. Navy will employ a biofuel blend to power aircraft and most vessels participating in a maritime exercise that's slated to be conducted near Hawaii next summer, senior officials told reporters today.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held a conference call with reporters this morning to discuss a contract the Defense Logistics Agency announced last week for 450,000 gallons of biofuel that will power a Navy carrier group during a maritime exercise next summer.
The contract is the largest government purchase of biofuel in history, and provides $12 million to suppliers Solazyme and Dynamic Fuels LLC, a joint venture of Tyson Foods, Inc. and Syntroleum Corporation.
Solazyme's biofuel is algae-based, Mabus explained, while Dynamic's is made from used cooking oil and non-food-grade animal fats.
So-called drop-in fuels can work without engine modifications, and Mabus noted the Navy has already certified that its ship and aircraft engines will perform on the new fuels.
He said the fuel "met all our criteria -- that it be a drop-in biofuel, that come from nonfood sources, and that it not increase the carbon footprint."
The fuels will be combined in a 50-50 blend with petroleum-based diesel and aviation fuel to power the U.S. ships and aircraft taking part in the Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC exercise, the world's largest international maritime exercise, scheduled to take place off Hawaii next summer, the Navy secretary added.
The carrier that anchors the strike group is nuclear-powered, Mabus noted, but all other Navy craft involved in the exercise will use biofuel.
"We think that this represents a major step in energy independence for the United States in making the United States Navy a better war-fighting operation," Mabus said, "and in reducing our dependence on unstable sources of foreign energy, as well as reducing the budget shocks that come with buying fuel from either potentially or actually unstable place on earth."
Use of fossil fuels "is a very real threat to our national security, and to the U.S. Navy's ability to protect America and to project power overseas," Mabus added.
While the DLA purchase is a small fraction of the Navy's annual fuel consumption of 1.26 billion gallons, supporting the nation's fledgling biofuel industry will ultimately make the Navy "better war fighters," the Navy secretary said.
The Navy plans to follow the RIMPAC demonstration with a 2016 multi-month carrier group deployment using 50 percent biofuel for surface ships and aircraft, Mabus said.
The Navy has throughout history led new developments in fuel, he noted: from sail to coal in the 1800s, from coal to oil in the early 1900s to nuclear power in the 1950s.
"We're going to lead once again by helping establish a market for biofuels now," Mabus said.
Biofuel use lessens America's dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, he said, and increases the nation's ability to compete in the global energy market.
"This is not only going to help the Navy ... [and] our national security, but it's going to help the farmers and agriculture in the United States," Mabus said.
Vilsack said the biofuel purchase is a turning point in the partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Navy and the Energy Department under President Barack Obama's "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future," which tasked the three to advance a domestic industry capable of producing "drop-in" biofuel substitutes for diesel and jet fuel.
More than 300 facilities in the United States are now producing ethanol and biodiesel, he noted.
Agriculture officials have this year helped finance loans for two refineries that will produce biofuel from nonfood feed stocks, Vilsack said, and they expect to announce additional projects next year.
Vilsack noted that Agricultural Research Service and National Forest Service scientists have been working with industry to identify and develop additional nonfood, "feed stocks" for biofuels, and the Forest Service announced $118 million in grants for feedstock development.
Agriculture Department officials are also researching supply chain management to ensure biofuel products can efficiently reach the Navy market and other emerging markets, including the nation's commercial air carriers, he added.
"Today's announcement, I think, underscores the fact that the future for the Navy ... [and] this country lies in energy security, and basically controlling our own destiny by producing our own fuels in a creative and innovative way," Vilsack said.
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