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Mutiny Aboard the USS "Petroleum"

July 23, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

Saving the Earth, and saving lives: these tenets go hand-in-hand, and the U.S. Navy is standing at the bowsprit of technology development to advance the state of the art in the fleet's use of natural fuels. In this issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Rita Boland reports on the Navy's efforts in prepping for alternative fuel usage in her article, "Great Green Fleet Prepares to Set Sail." With a Navy demonstration slated for 2012, and full deployment on 2016's horizon, that service has pulled anchor to launch its Green Strike Group as a flagship of biofuel efficiency and success. The exact aircraft, ships and possible submarines to be named to the fleet are unknown at this stage, because the fuel technology is the focus, not the actual vehicles. Modifications to these ships and other craft aren't necessary, says Fleet Readiness Division director, Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, USN:

We are engineering the fuel; we are not reengineering the ships. So that's why it doesn't matter which ships are included.

The Green Strike Group is the Navy's visible, concrete action to jump the petroleum ship and rely less on foreign oil, and more on organic fuels. Adm. Cullom, also director of the Navy's Task Force Energy, emphasizes that alternative fuel goals aren't new to the Navy-an example is nuclear power for submarines-and it's been focusing on alternatives like fuel derived from algae and the camelina plant. These remove toxins in the air while they grow, and they burn cleaner when used. They also could save the Navy a lot of doubloons, because unlike oil they are not subject to price spikes from events like hurricanes. Additionally, the Navy is pushing increased conservation in its ranks, another measure that helps the planet and the pocketbook. The sea service already demonstrated camelina-derived biofuel in the F/A-18 Super Hornet; it flew the "Green Hornet," an F/A-18 using the petroleum alternative, on April 22, 2010-Earth Day. Adm. Cullom says it went smoothly:

Essentially there were no modifications to prepare for the Wright Brothers moment. I call it the "Wright Brothers moment" because this was the first tactical aircraft to fly at supersonic speed on biofuel. That truly was a landmark historic moment.

All the biofuel contracts for this work are run through the Defense Energy Support Center. The Navy needs 40,000 barrels of biofuel to run its Green Strike Group in the 2012 exercise. For 2016 deployment, 120,000 barrels are needed. The admiral emphasizes that the sea service is also working with outside organizations-other military branches and government agencies-to encourage an overall switch to "green steam":

[It's] the right thing to do. As Navy professionals, I think we pride ourselves on trying to be good environmental stewards of the resources at sea. I think this is just one more way we can do that.

The transportation industry can also take the helm of its energy ship and continue steering toward complementary alternative fuel efforts. For the Navy and other services, advantages of biofuels are obvious and desirable. Top Agriculture Department and Navy leaders emphasize the benefits of renewable energy sources not only to the military but also to the entire United States. How can industry help the Navy reach its timetable goals, and how do all participants in the alternative energy theater collaborate to share resources and implement them?

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