The United States makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes about a quarter of its fossil fuel resources. The Department of Defense (DOD) alone accounts for approximately 80% of the federal government’s oil usage.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, the Air Force and Navy have established usage goals for alternative fuels. In 2009, the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, committed the Navy and Marine Corps to five forward-thinking energy goals to be reached by 2020.

The goals set out by Mabus in 2009 served as some of the initial steps made toward the development and use of biofuels in the military and commercial sectors of the United States. They are a starting ground for what has now become a nation-wide focus on biofuels.

Together, these goals decrease the Navy’s energy consumption and increase the use of alternative energy, which would in turn improve combat capability and energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil:

  1. By 2020, half of total energy consumption, ashore and afloat to come from alternative sources
  2. By 2020, half of installations will be net-zero energy consumers using wind, solar, ocean and geothermal power generated on base
  3. By 2016, Navy will sail the Great Green Fleet
  4. By 2015, the Department of the Navy will cut in half the amount of petroleum used in commercial vehicle fleet through phased adoption of hybrid, electric, and flex fuel vehicles
  5. Navy and Marine Corps will change the way contracts are awarded, industry will be held contractually accountable for meeting energy efficiency targets

One of the energy goals centers around a carrier strike fleet of ships and aircraft that run on alternative sources of energy. The vision was to create a fleet made up of nuclear carriers, hybrid-electric biofueled surface ships and biofueled aircraft that would be supported by shore-based installations.

Nicknamed the “Great Green Fleet” in honor of President Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, which helped position America as a global power in the early 20th Century, the fleet will implement energy conservation measures as a part of their regular deployments starting in 2016.

One of the provisional goals of the Navy was to conduct a demonstration at the July 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercise in which participating nations are provided with training opportunities to ensure the safety and security of sea lanes on the world’s oceans.

In its debut in 2012, the Great Green Fleet was comprised of:

  • Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz
  • Cruiser USS Princeton
  • Destroyer USS Chafee
  • Destroyer USS Chung Hoon
  • Fuel tanker USNS Henry J. Kaiser

The entire fleet was powered solely by alternative fuel, either nuclear or advanced biofuel blends.

Roughly 450,000 gallons of biofuel were purchased for the fleet. The biofuel blends used in the fleet were 50/50 mixtures of biofuel (used cooking oil, algae) and petrol-based marine diesel or aviation fuel. 350,000 gallons of renewable diesel powered the surface ships and 100,000 gallons of renewable jet fuel powered the aircraft.

The ships and aircraft performed at full capacity and the 2012 RIMPAC exercise was deemed a successful implementation of advanced biofuel blends and energy efficient technologies in an operational setting.

Building off of the success of the Great Green Fleet, among other governmental efforts, subsequent strides have been made toward the development and use of advanced biofuels in the United States.

In September 2014, the Departments of the Navy, Agriculture and Energy met at the White House to announce new contracts to construct and commission biorefineries capable of producing drop-in, military-compatible fuels. These fuels will not only be used in the country’s most advanced warfighting platforms, but also in the commercial sector.

Three companies, Emerald Biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy, and Red Rock Biofuels were awarded contracts under the Defense Production Act (DPA) for their progress on the President’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). The CAP gave the Departments of Navy, Agriculture and Energy the task of working with the private sector to expedite the development of cost-competitive advanced biofuels. Starting in 2016, these three companies will produce over 100 million gallons of military grade fuel at a price that is competitive with fossil fuel.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spoke on the benefits of these advanced biomass-based transportation fuels for the DOD. “The contracts being announced today will help expand the operational capability of our Navy and Marine Corps around the world,” said Mabus. “In today’s complex fiscal environment, we are balancing our mission with our resources and we must be innovative and forward-thinking. Programs like these help keep our operational capabilities on the cutting edge.”

The contracts are also a major announcement for the United States economy and national security. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman stated, “Advanced biomass-based transportation fuels have the potential to provide a reliable and cost-effective alternative to traditional fuel sources.”

“By advancing technologies that reduce our carbon emissions,” Poneman explained, “this multi-agency partnership is demonstrating that by protecting our energy and environmental security, we will enhance our national security as well.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that any time the U.S. military can avoid reliance on foreign sources by using American-grown fuels, armed forces become more energy secure. Vilsack also emphasized how American-grown fuels will affect the job market, stating, “The expansion of our advanced biofuel sector means the creation of good jobs across the country, especially in many of our rural communities.”

The DOD has recognized that production and use of biofuels means fewer jobs shipped overseas, increased rural economic development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased energy security. The benefits are undeniable. When the Great Green Fleet sets sail in 2016, biofuels won’t literally be the wind in its sails, but they will power us through the seas of change and into a brighter future, especially as biofuels become increasingly important across several sectors in the U.S.

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Evan V.

I'm a Social Media Specialist for Novozymes currently managing the Bioenergy team's social media presence. I like digital marketing, dark roast coffee, and disc golf.