As an organisation one does not immediately think of the military as being in the vanguard of adopting green practices. However, all this might now begin to change if other areas of the military begin to adopt the latest practice by the US navy.
As part of the push towards what they term the ‘green fleet’ the navy has just launched its new aircraft carrier the USS Stockdale. The big difference between the Stockdale and many other naval ships throughout the world is that The Stockdale is partly powered by a bio fuel composed of beef fat. This is part of a push to convert up to 50% of the navy’s ships to bio fuel by 2020, an ambition that the navy is keen to achieve..
Currently the US navy is running on a 10%/90% ratio of bio fuel to petroleum. The reason for this is that currently it is simply too expensive to increase the ratio of bio fuel to Petrol.
Indeed, in 2012 the navy faced significant opposition to even a 10% use in bio fuels for its vessels. US lawmakers objected strongly to the $26.00 per gallon price tag, even going so far as to pass legislation stopping the navy using more of the fuel unless the price of bio fuel was competitive with that of petroleum based fuels.
However there is every indication that as competition increases in the growing bio fuel market prices will fall dramatically and place them in an economically comparable position to petrol, a situation in which the navy in particular is very keen to capitalise on.
The decision to begin the shift to a greater emphasis on bio fuels in the US navy, whilst undoubtedly greener than the alternative petroleum based fuels, is, however, not just driven by environmental concerns. According to navy secretary Ray Mabus, the increased use of bio fuels aboard US ship presents a military, strategic and economic advantage as well. It means, for instance, that military decisions will be less influenced by the global fluctuation in oil prices giving the navy far more flexibility throughout its operations.
Mabus states that:
“In 2010, we were losing too many marines in convoys carrying fossil fuels to outposts in Afghanistan, and the prohibitive cost of oil was requiring us to stop training at home in order to keep steaming abroad, a dangerous and unsustainable scenario.”
Moreover, Mabus contends, this shift to bio fuel derived from beef fat will also have a positive knock on effect as well, creating more jobs and giving much needed help to American farmers. Mabus continued to suggest that the technology for producing bio fuels is increasing at a rapid rate. He went on to say that it will soon be possible to produce the fuel from landfill waste, wood chips and even food waste, which combined will bring in lower prices.
However, the move is not without its critics. Some have argued that producing such a bio fuel in larger and larger quantities might do more harm than good. Not only is the process of producing the fuel very costly at present but it also takes up a lot of land if it is produced in great quantities.
Whilst the navy may be at the forefront of investing into alternative sources of fuel use there have also been pledges from other branches of the US military to do the same. This shift has been endorsed and backed by the federal government who have already invested $500 into drop-in bio fuels. Even better news is that these can be used in unreconfigured engines, providing a significant saving.