Sky’s the limit for Navy’s bio­fuel fo­cus

Al­ter­na­tive fuel fu­ture just ‘part of the new nor­mal’

- Bill Love­less @bil­l_love­less Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY Bill Love­less is a vet­eran en­ergy jour­nal­ist and pod­cast host in Washington. He is the for­mer an­chor of the TV pro­gram “Platts En­ergy Week.”

U.S. Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus has made al­ter­na­tive en­ergy a top pri­or­ity since tak­ing of­fice in 2009, but this week he took his com­mit­ment to new heights. Lit­er­ally. The civil­ian leader for the Navy climbed aboard an EA-18G Growler fighter jet as a pas­sen­ger on one of a series of test flights us­ing 100% bio­fuel.

Bio­fu­els are not new for the U.S. Navy and Air Force, which have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with blends on air­craft and ships for sev­eral years. In fact, all Navy ships and air­craft are now cer­ti­fied to run on up to 50-50 blends of con­ven­tional and al­ter­na­tive fu­els.

But the flights tak­ing place this month at the Naval Air Sta­tion Patux­ent River in Mary­land mark the first time the Navy has gone all out to ex­per­i­ment with bio­fu­els for avi­a­tion.

Mabus posted pho­to­graphs of his trip on his of­fi­cial Face­book page Mon­day, say­ing it of­fers an­other ex­am­ple of progress to­ward a goal he set for the Navy, in­clud­ing the Marine Corps, of meet­ing half of its en­ergy needs with al­ter­na­tive sources by 2020.

The man spear­head­ing the Navy’s move to green en­ergy on air, at sea and on land, Dennis McGinn, says the mil­i­tary ser­vice will meet that tar­get, with bio­fu­els in­creas­ingly con­tribut­ing to the suc­cess.

The Navy al­ready has done so at its bases and other on­shore fa­cil­i­ties, with more than 1 gi­gawatt of elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by so­lar, wind and other al­ter­na­tive power sources.

Now, Mabus and McGinn look up in the air and out to sea to fin­ish the task.

“This will be part of the new nor­mal,” McGinn, the Navy’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for en­ergy, in­stal­la­tions and en­vi­ron­ment, told me re­cently on the Columbia En

ergy Ex­change, a pod­cast at the Columbia Univer­sity Cen­ter on Global En­ergy Pol­icy. “We’ll be put­ting bio­fuel blends into our ships in the form of marine diesel. We’ll be put­ting it into our he­li­copters and our jet air­craft.”

Navy tests of bio­fu­els in air­craft be­gan in 2010, when an F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net fighter jet flew on a 50-50 blend of con­ven­tional jet diesel fuel and bio­fuel made from camelina, a plant whose pods con­tain small, oily seeds.

Other tri­als took place in 2012 when the Navy used sim­i­lar blends of fuel on both air­craft and ships dur­ing a Rim of the Pa­cific Ex­er­cise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest in­ter­na­tional mar­itime warfare ex­er­cise.

At that time, the bio­fuel cost was $26 a gal­lon, well in ex­cess of the cost of reg­u­lar marine diesel and jet fuel, McGinn said.

But for the most re­cent RIMPAC, held this sum­mer, the gov­ern­ment paid $2.15 a gal­lon to AltAir Fu­els, a Cal­i­for­nia re­finer, a price on par with that of con­ven­tional fu­els. In those ex­er­cises, the Navy con­cen­trated on bio­fu­els in ships, with a blend of 10% fuel from beef tal­low mixed with marine diesel.

“We’re at a 10% blend now, de­pend­ing on price and avail­abil­ity,” McGinn said. “Then we’ll start see­ing blends for marine fuel and jet fuel at 20% ( bio­fuel), 30%, and build­ing up.”

Among other re­cent green break­throughs for Navy ships is the in­stal­la­tion of hy­brid elec­tric drive sys­tems on some Ar­leigh Burke guided-mis­sile de­stroy­ers, which McGinn said can ex­tend the time they can go with­out diesel re­fu­el­ing by as many as four days. “I jok­ingly say it’s the Prius of the seas,” he added.

The U.S. armed forces aren’t the only flight op­er­a­tions look­ing in­creas­ingly to bio­fu­els; com­mer­cial air­lines are do­ing so, as well, as tests show the al­ter­na­tive is a re­li­able op­tion that can re­duce their car­bon emis­sions.

In April, for ex­am­ple, United Air­lines be­gan us­ing a blend of 30% bio­fuel and 70% reg­u­lar jet fuel for flights be­tween Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco.

“We didn’t just fill up the jet and fly it,” McGinn said of the Navy’s in­volve­ment over sev­eral years now. “We did an ex­ten­sive amount of ground test­ing, a lot of mea­sure­ments at every point along that jet en­gine, (and) from go­ing into the fuel tank to com­ing out the ex­haust. It was done well, and we’re very con­fi­dent, as we will be in this 100% blend test (in Septem­ber), that it’s go­ing to work.”

 ?? SEC­RE­TARY OF THE NAVY ?? U.S. Sec­re­tary of the Navy Ray Mabus was a pas­sen­ger aboard a EA-18G Growler test­ing al­ter­na­tive fuel.
SEC­RE­TARY OF THE NAVY U.S. Sec­re­tary of the Navy Ray Mabus was a pas­sen­ger aboard a EA-18G Growler test­ing al­ter­na­tive fuel.
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