The Navy formally deployed the “Great Green Fleet” of bio-fuel-powered warships from San Diego Wednesday, but the fuel is 90 percent diesel and only 10 percent biofuel.
Most of the group’s ships will be run for now on a mix of 90 percent petroleum and only 10 percent biofuels, which are mostly made of beef fat. The Navy originally aimed for a 50-50 ratio. The fuel includes such a high proportion of regular diesel because biofuelsdon’t contain as much energy as the same amount of conventional fuel.
The Navy has embraced biofuel as part of its goal to get half its power from alternative energy sources by 2020. It also claims that using biofuels could potentially be less expensive than conventional fuel and simplify logistics. However, the price of oil has declined significantly since then and independent analysis suggests that the switch to biofuels is more about environmental symbolism than strategic advantages.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told Reuters use of biofuels is simply another way for the Navy to reduce oil consumption. He claims that the Navy cut its use of oil by 15 percent since he took charge in 2009, and that the Marine Corps reduced oil use by 60 percent.
Politicians and scientists have expressed concerns about the extreme costs of developing biofuels and the associated infrastructure necessary to produce them. Congressional critics, such as Republican Sen. John McCain, have stated that biofuels are far too expensive for the military to develop at a time when the defense budgets face massive cuts.
When the Navy first tested 20,055 gallons of marine diesel and jet fuel biofuels in 2012, it spent up to $424 per gallon. After the Navy spent another $210 million to build biofuel refineries and the Department of Agriculture spent an additional $161 million in crop supports to assist the program, the price has decline to about $2.20 a gallon, including subsides.
The U.S. Air Force previously bought 11,000 gallons of jet biofuel at $59 a gallon in 2012.
The refineries are expected to begin operations this year, with full production starting in 2017.
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Photo by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet