On January 20, the U.S. Navy deployed the “Great Green Fleet” from the port of San Diego, a fleet of ships dubbed so because they utilize both renewable fuels and energy efficiency measures.  USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is a fleet of ships that utilize nuclear energy, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels. One ship, the USS Makin Island, is fueled with a blend of diesel-biofuel, and contains a hybrid electric-diesel propulsion system, allowing the vessel to go three times as long without refueling, compared to a conventional vessel. It’s estimated that the use of energy efficiency and biofuels in USS Makin Island will save $248 million in energy costs over its lifetime.

The deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group on Wednesday is just one step outlined by the Department of Defense’s commitment to source 50 percent of the military’s energy use with renewables by 2020. In 2010, the Department of the Navy established Task Force Energy, with goals of increased consideration of energy efficiency in contracts for buildings and systems; the Great Green Fleet demonstration, a reduction of non-tactical petroleum use by 50 percent; production of 50 percent of on-shore energy from alternative sources by 2020; and ensuring that 50 percent of Navy and Marine Corps installations will be net-zero by 2020.

The Great Green Fleet – named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet – is the first of its kind in the world.  Running on a blend of 10 percent biofuel, sourced from beef fat from Midwestern cattle operations, and 90 percent conventional petroleum fuel, the goal is to increase the biofuel blend as high as 50/50.  The Great Green Fleet will be operational through September 2016 to demonstrate the ability of the Navy to perform with the new energy-saving measures.

The Navy is especially sensitive to price fluctuations in the price of oil. The Department of Defense uses 14 million gallons of fuel a day, with a quarter of that usage by the Navy.  While oil is at rock bottom prices today, analysts wonder how long these low prices will continue.  Every dollar price increase in a barrel of oil costs the Navy $30 million dollars per year, making the Navy particularly interested in ways to reduce petroleum consumption.  

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s main goal with the program is energy security -- to protect the Navy and Marine Corps from energy price spikes and from being sidelined from operation.  According to Mabus, since 2009, the Navy has cut oil consumption by 15 percent, and the Marine Corps by 60 percent.  Improvements to fuel economy and alternative fuel use “gives us an edge tactically, it gives us an edge strategically,” stated Mabus. “It keeps … fuel from being used as a weapon against us.”  

While the program has had its critics – the purchase price to the Navy of biofuels has dropped from upwards of $15 per gallon to $2.05 per gallon for the fuel purchased as part of the Great Green Fleet Operation.  The USDA is providing a subsidy to bring the fuel cost in line with marine diesel costs – 15 cents per gallon for the current fuel contract.  The mix of beef fat biofuel and petroleum is being supplied by California-based AltAir Fuels and Tesoro, which has a contract with the Navy for 77 million gallons of fuel between October of 2015 and September of 2016. It is a drop-in military spec fuel, which means that current ships have no need for changes to fueling or other infrastructure.

The Navy and USDA have partnered on the development of biofuels for the Navy’s use, with the Navy committing $210 million to three firms which are building biofuel refineries that will use feedstocks such as woody biomass, municipal solid waste, and cooking grease.  USDA is providing $160 million for crop support for the projects.  The refineries are under construction, with fuel production expected to begin in 2017.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack noted that, in addition to strengthening defense logistics, the program also supports rural economies. At Wednesday’s ceremony he stated, "Today's deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste, and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America."


For more information see:

Amidst drop in oil prices, U.S. Navy deploys "Great Green Fleet," Reuters

Launch of the Great Green Fleet, Biofuels Digest

DoD’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Initiatives, EESI

Great Green Fleet, US Navy