Biofuels are back…er…still in business
Back in 2014, then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus met with President Obama to discuss a major new initiative on biofuels in the pursuit of greening the U.S. Navy and after years of looking at alternative ways to make the fleet more secure and energy independent.
The Navy revealed private contracts to fund the construction of U.S. biofuel refineries that would turn animal fats, household garbage and fallen timber into more than 100 million gallons per year of military-grade fuel beginning around 2016, the White House said. Picture the waste reclamation system used on the Delorian in back to The Future Part II.
The alternative F-76 diesel and jet fuels would help power what Mabus dubbed the “Great Green Fleet” of Navy ships and aircraft, boost the domestic biofuels industry, and fight climate change.
Now four years on, the initiative has yet to produce a single drop of biofuel for the Navy. But Mabus’ brainchild did not die when Obama left office and is now quietly moving forward under the Trump administration. The Pentagon has authorized $140 million in the last few months of 2017 to help build two biofuel refineries—a move that does not sit well with some top Republican lawmakers who have long opposed what they see as a waste of taxpayer money.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Examiner, “I would be interested certainly in seeing if the government could get out of those contracts and certainly not spend additional money toward that end.”
Fulcrum BioEnergy, a California company, was given access to $70 million in matching funds in October to build a refinery outside Reno, Nev., that will turn municipal waste into fuel, the Pentagon said. In December, the department authorized another $70 million for a refinery project by Red Rock Biofuels in rural Oregon with goals to reduce the chances of forest fires by making biofuel from fallen trees and other potential tinder in forests.
These new biofuels contracts were entered into based on legally binding contractual language dating back to the original 2013 discussions and the Oregon and Nevada plants are the last standing of four original projects. $10.8 million were give to two other companies but those refineries never came to fruition.
This projects stem from the Navy and the departments of Energy and Agriculture as part of an Obama-era agreement to spend more than half a billion dollars to boost the biofuel industry, which was deemed at the time as “essential” to sustaining the military.
“I set out to change the energy culture of the Navy, revolutionizing what we used, how we used it, and how and where we got it,” Mabus said during a speech to the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group in December 2017.
Mabus also oversaw the testing of a Navy F/A-18 “Green Hornet” in 2010, which was the first supersonic jet to fly on a biofuel blend, and two years later, a demonstration showcasing Navy ships and aircraft operating on a biofuel blend during the multinational Rim of the Pacific exercise.
Some additional, outside the box, greening projects you might have missed
Hint: not all of them made it
- Project Aquaman: The “Materials With Novel Transport Properties” (MANTRA) program seeks to create a 75-gallon-an-hour water desalination plant small enough to fit into a “man-portable backpack system…allowing decentralized water sustainment for increased troop agility and mobility.”
- The Butterfly Effect: Why load up live insects with backpacks that absorb the energy from their fluttering wings? To power the microscopic systems that turn them into “hopping and swimming” drone aircraft.
- Hand Held Fusion Reactors: The project, known as the “Chip-Scale High Energy Atomic Beams” program, was an effort aimed at working on the core technologies behind a tiny particle accelerator, capable of firing subatomic particles at incredible speeds.
- Hybrid Humvee: “Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator-Alpha” burns 70 percent less fuel than the standard Humvee and is actually pretty cool design wise.
- “Eco-Enhanced Mattress Unit” made of recycled material that is easily washable and could last four to five times as long as a standard mattress.
- Solar Power at Nellis AFB: the largest photovoltaic solar array in North America saving $1 million annually, and equal to taking 185,000 cars off roadways.
- Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy: convoys of heavy aircraft drafting off each other in frighteningly close formations, to save fuel use by as much as 10 percent.
- Naval Alchemy: conversion of the CO2 in seawater into jet fuel. I mean, it’s the Navy and seawater is a plenty.
- Experimental Bases (“ExFOBs“): self-sufficient, net-energy-zero bases that use hybrid solar generators, solar fridges, and microgrids. The Marine Corps utilizes these in Afghanistan.
What say you SOFREP? Are these efforts effective or a waste of money? Are they making our military stronger? Sound off in the comments?