Navy, Maersk Team On Ship Biofuel Test

The Navy is seriously busy on the biofuels front. Within weeks of its biggest biofuel test ever – and just days after announcing it would purchase 450,000 gallons of biofuels to use in key military exercises next summer – comes word that the service is working with Maersk in testing algae-based biofuel on a container ship en route from Northern Europe to India.

Maersk was a good fit for extensive testing of the biofuel, the company said, because the Maersk Kalmar “has a dedicated auxiliary test engine, which reduces the risks of testing, and its fuels system has a special biofuel blending equipment and separate tanks.” The company said that on its 6,500-mile voyage from Bremerhaven, Germany, to Pipavav, India, the Kalmar will burn some 30 tons of biofuel.

US Navy, Maersk Test Algae-Based Biofuel

image via Gary Faux/Wikimedia Commons

Maersk didn’t say where the biofuel originated, but in the Navy’s recent large-scale demonstration off the coast of California, the hydro-processed algal oil blended 50-50 with standard petroleum fuel came from the California company Solazyme. Solazyme, too, is one of two suppliers in the 450,000-gallon biofuel purchase.

On the Kalmar, the blends are varying, Maersk said, from 7 percent biofuel to 100 percent, in order to see what works best. “The team is also analyzing emissions data on NOx (nitrogen oxides), SOx (sulphur oxides), CO2 and particulate matter from the fuel use, along with effects on power efficiency and engine wear and tear,” Maersk said.

“We expect to identify an optimal blend of distillate and biofuel that will meet the more stringent requirements of the International Maritime Organization’s forthcoming emissions regulations,” said David Anderson, Maersk Line’s technical representative for the project. “The test is part of a journey to spur innovation in fuel R&D, diversify the fuel supply and improve environmental performance. It is a long-term goal Maersk shares with the Navy.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Ken-danko

    Keep us up to date on any test result.

  • Anonymous

    The Navy paid $430 a gallon for Solazyme algae diesel oil for its recent ship stunts and $149 a gallon for algae kerosene for its recent airplane stunts–fuels that normally cost the military less than $3 a gallon.u00a0 I say “stunts” because that is what RAND said in its Jan 2011 study that said the US Military is wasting vast sums of money duplicating meaningless demonstrations that have already been done bynindustry for 55 different biofuel blends. The issue is not making the fuel, it’s making it economically. To see how we are doing, consider that Solazyme is receiving another $21 million in subsidies from DOE, so the real cost of the fuel is still far higher, and that Honeywell UOP was just awarded anDOE contract for $1.1M to produce a mere 100 gallons of fuel in 2012–that is $11,000 a gallon.u00a0 North America isnalready littered with failed ethanol biofuel enterprises that never delivered and closed up as soon as the subsidies dried up.u00a0 America’s fanciful mandatory ethanol policiesnhave driven up the world-wide price of food 250% and resulted in the United States actually IMPORTING biofuel to meet federal mandates.u00a0 How insane to spread starvation in other countries by enticing their farmers to fuel crop production instead of food production (e.g., Brazil), and to trade U.S dependence on cheap imported petroleum for a dependence upon expensive imported ethanol and biodiesel. Is that the kind of “green” that Maersk wants to be associated with?

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s true that biofuels are far more expensive than conventional fuels at this time. And there are even more good questions as to whether biofuels investment is an efficient way to get us toward lower GHG emissions. So I share your skepticism about them (see these EarthTechling stories:u00a0http://www.earthtechling.com/2011/12/u-s-biofuels-policy-a-fail-in-new-study/u00a0andu00a0http://www.earthtechling.com/2011/07/biofuels-production-helping-drive-food-prices/). That said, some of the cost figures you cite are rather misleading. In these biofuels programs, a big part of what the Navy is paying for is the development of new technologies. That is to say, a hefty portion of what you compute into the per-gallon costs of these fuels is actually research & development. That’s certainly the case in the Honeywell contract you cite (which is actually an FAA/Department of Transportation deal, not DOE). These aren’t agencies looking to purchase fuel to power their own aircraft; they’re looking to boost research into the second-generation biofuels based on Isobutanol. The point of getting 100 gallons is to test the fuel. It’s a demonstration project. As these programs move beyond the R&D and demo phases, the costs come down (although the costs are still very high). In its most recent deal with Solazyme, the Navy is paying about $26/gallon, around eight times the costs of conventional fuel. And according to the airlines, the biofuel they can buy now is around six times the cost of conventional fuel.

  • Anonymous

    u00a0DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM AND ALGAE RESEARCHERS NEED TO BE INVESTIGATED!Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completed. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous! There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results! The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.nThe REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at universities for another 50 years?nIn business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!A Concerned Taxpayer