Navy Drives Biofuel Production With Goal to Buy 336M Gallons a Year by 2020, Enhancing San Diego’s Role as Center for Algae Biofuels

The U.S. military’s interest in developing algae biofuels dates back at least three years, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began to assess the technical capabilities needed to produce JP-8 grade jet fuel. By the end of 2008, DARPA awarded separate contracts to San Diego’s General Atomics and SAIC, now based in McLean, VA, to make jet fuel from algae and cellulosic feedstocks.

The extent of the Pentagon’s interest became more apparent last week at BIO’s Pacific Rim Summit in Honolulu, according to Biofuels Digest. Editor Jim Lane says the Department of Defense could prove to be the ultimate driver of advanced algae-based biofuels in the United States, “by stepping up as a buyer, and communicating buying signals to the makers of advanced biofuels and their financiers.”

That view was seconded in a weekend column by none other than Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, who wrote that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia) wants to create a “Great Green Fleet” by 2012—a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels. Navy aircraft assigned to the fleet would fly on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and conventional fuel.

Friedman adds: “Mabus has also set a goal for the Navy to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 percent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020. If the Navy really uses its buying power when buying power, and setting building efficiency standards, it alone could expand the green energy market in a decisive way.”

To meet this goal in 2020, the Navy will need 336 million gallons of drop-in advanced biofuels every year.

Biofuels Digest quotes Chris Tindal, the Navy’s Deputy Director for Renewable Energy, telling the audience in Honolulu: “We need drop-in replacements—we don’t have the time to do engine reconfigurations, so we are working on a series of tests to ensure green strike group certification by 2012 and across our fleet. Which is why we conducted, this past Earth Day, a 1.2 Mach supersonic test of our F-18 Hornet, which we renamed the Green Hornet of course, using camelina-based jet fuel.”

Also quoted is Jason Pyle, founding CEO of San Diego’s Sapphire Energy: “In looking to agriculture to provide the answers, we saw that there are 375 million acres of water-based agriculture. 27 percent of world’s dietary energy comes from rice, and rice is the model system we aspire to.”

The confluence of these two forces, Navy business and algae-based biofuel development, can only enhance San Diego’s emergence as a center for biofuel development.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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2 responses to “Navy Drives Biofuel Production With Goal to Buy 336M Gallons a Year by 2020, Enhancing San Diego’s Role as Center for Algae Biofuels”

  1. anonymous says:

    Major University Admits Hard Science
    Problems Relating to Algae Have Been Solved

    Arizona State University Senior Vice President Rick Shangraw recenty said “…algae will “deliver soon” because…most of the hard science problems science problems regarding algae have been solved…Now…it’s largely an engineering problem.”

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE really want to get off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding grants to algae researchers to keep them employed at universities.

    Algae has been researched at universities for over 50 years and NOTHING HAS BEEN COMMERCIALIZED TO DATE. This is taxpayer money and they have nothing to show for it.