The U.S. Navy’s steadily growing biofuels program is taking a leap forward with the purchase of 450,000 gallons of plant-based fuel that will help power a carrier group during big maritime exercises next summer.
The Navy said it will pay $12 million to purchase biofuels from two companies: Solazyme, the South San Francisco-based startup that ferments algae to produce oil that can be refined into fuel; and Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels, a Tyson Foods-Syntroleum joint venture that makes its fuel from used cooking oil and non-food-grade animal fats.
The fuels will be used in 50-50 blends with standard diesel and aviation fuel in ships and aircraft taking part in what the Navy calls the world’s largest international maritime war games, the Rim of the Pacific exercises off Hawaii.
The biofuels do come at a hefty cost. Based on the $12 million purchase price for 450,000 gallons, the Navy is paying north of $26 per gallon for the biofuel – more than eight times the approximately $3 per gallon that petroleum-based jet fuel is going for these days, as Wired News pointed out.
But Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the investment was worth it, for a number of reasons.
"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."
Even with the hefty new purchase, however, the Navy still has a long way to go in its green-fuel efforts: 450,000 gallons represents less than .04 percent of the 1.26 billion gallons of fuel the Navy uses annually, the service said.