04 November 2010, 18:22 BST
Last week, a 49-foot naval gunboat was the first to test-drive algae-based fuel as part of the United States military’s initiative for a new improved, energy efficient strike force.
The experimental vessel was tested at the Norfolk, Virginia naval base and operated successfully on a tank filled with equal parts algae-based and diesel fuels.
The navy hopes to eventually have 50% of its fleet run on a combination of renewable and nuclear energy by 2020 — a lofty goal, considering less than 20% of the naval fleet currently runs on energy from unconventional sources…
In the short term, the navy has ambitions to roll out a strike force comprised of less than a dozen ships, subs, and plans that run on a mix of biofuels and nuclear power by 2012, and they could find themselves deployed in the field as soon as 2016.
A move in a greener direction is necessary in a world in which conventional fuels are only getting more expensive — and harder to come by...
The U.S. military is currently the single largest buyer of oil in the world. Estimates have pegged daily oil use at 400,000 barrels — during peacetime; that number can double during active wartime.
The Pentagon has made no secret of the dangers and cost burden of importing oil for the war efforts in Afghanistan. According to one report, the true cost of a gallon of petrol is well over $400.
So the efforts of the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard to rethink and redesign the way equipment is used is not just about the environment; more oft than not, it comes down to the bottom line and combat efficiency.
"Our program to go green is about combat capability, first and foremost… We no longer want to be held hostage by one form of energy such as petroleum," Rear Admiral Philly Cullom, director of the navy’s sustainability division, said at the test run at Norfolk last week.
Biofuels do win out over oil in terms of production materials, since they can be produced wherever the raw materials going into them (algae, corn).
The setback with organic ingredients, however, is that their shelf life is not as long as oil's.
And the cost to produce, package, and ship biofuels (especially given that shelf life) is not cheap.
But then again, the technology is still relatively new. And the benefits for the overall bottom line, the environment, and combat efficiency might one day outweigh the dollar amount on a barrel of algae-based fuel.
Just last month, the navy bought 150,000 gallons of algae-based fuel from a company in California. It looks as though they are willing to try it, in spite of the current price drawback.
And what about the little test-driving 49-foot gunboat from Virginia?
The experimental vessel will be used in rivers and marshes, and has a future in the Middle East for oil installations.
Source: Green Chip Stocks
Photo provided by Western's photostream, Flickr