The algae biofuel industry is still in its infancy but the U.S. Navy is already planning ahead for a robust future.
Earlier this year, the Navy successfully tested a 50-50 algae aviation biofuel blend on a Seahawk helicopter in flight, and now an algae biodiesel blend has passed muster during tests on a 135-foot landing vessel.
The ship, a conventional Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1600-class, went through its paces earlier this month using a marine fuel blend composed of one-half algae biodiesel and one-half NATO standard multi-purpose naval fuel, called F-76.
The LCU is commonly used to transport troops and supplies over relatively short distances, from a ship or seagoing base to shore.
Though a relatively small vessel, the LCU can reach speeds up to 12 knots while carrying up to 400 combat-equipped Marines. The equivalent cargo in supplies is about 180 tons.
As with the Seahawk helicopter algae biofuel demonstration, the LCU tests show that an algae biofuel blend can be used as a drop-in replacement for conventional fuel, without the need for any modifications to the engine, fuel tanks or exhaust system.
The LCU is among at least three new vessels undergoing biofuel tests this fall. The Navy also plans on testing biofuel on a decommissioned destroyer in November, and on a Landing Craft - Air Cushioned (LCAC) vessel in December.
The LCAC is a type of hovercraft, designed to cross shorelines that are inaccessible to conventional landing craft.
Last year, the Navy also successfully tested an algae biofuel blend on a Navy Riverine Command Boat, designed for use in inland waterways.
All of this activity has its roots in a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote the development of the domestic biofuel industry.
When the Memorandum of Understanding was announced, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus made it clear that the biofuel industry would be called upon to play a critical role in future national defense, stating:
“In order to secure the strategic energy future of the United States, create a more nimble and effective fighting force and protect our planet from destabilizing climate changes, I have committed the Navy and Marine Corps to meet aggressive energy targets that go far beyond previous measures.”
One of the immediate goals is to create a seagoing “Green Strike Group” ready for demonstration by 2012. Perhaps disappointing some biofuel fans, the Green Strike Group will rely heavily on nuclear vessels and diesel-electric hybrids as well as biofuel-blend ships, but the reality is that commercial biofuel production will need years of development before it can support either the military or civilian market.
The inclusion of nuclear energy in a “green” initiative is also consistent with the Navy’s energy goals, which are not so much pro-biofuel as they are pro-anything-but-petroluem.
As described succinctly by the Navy:
The United States Navy and Marine Corps rely far too much on petroleum, a dependency that degrades the strategic position of our country and the tactical performance of our forces. The global supply of oil is finite, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find and exploit, and over time cost continues to rise.
After the Green Strike Group is tested, the next step for the Navy is to sail a “Great Green Fleet.”
Projected by 2016, the fleet will include both marine vessels and aircraft, such as the Seahawk helicopter and Super Hornet fighter jet, which has been tested on a 50-50 biofuel blend based on the weedy plant camelina.