Yo, Newt: Navy Sails 1,200 Miles On Algae Biofuel

Newt Gingrich mocks algae as a source of clean fuel, but the U.S. Navy’s got no problem with it. In fact, the Navy is extending—literally—its use of biofuels derived from the stuff.

Last November, a remotely controlled destroyer using a 50-50 blend of algae-derived, hydro-processed oil and a standard petroleum fuel made a 17-hour trek 150 or so miles up the California coast from San Diego to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme. That was the Navy’s largest-scale alt-fuel demo—until now. According to Solazyme, the U.S. Navy Frigate fleet ship USS Ford just sailed from its homeport in Everett, Wash., down to San Diego using 25,000 gallons of the company’s Soladiesel blended in even proportions with F-76 military diesel.

u.s. navy biofuels algae

image via Wikimedia Commons

Solazyme didn’t say exactly how far the trip was, but charts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [PDF] peg the distance from Seattle (about 30 miles south of Everett) to San Diego at 1,228 nautical miles.

The Navy has set a goal of deploying a “Great Green Fleet” powered entirely by alternative fuels by 2016, and of reaching 50 percent alternative energy use overall by 2020. The service has also tested alternative fuel in a yard patrol boat at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and in a landing craft utility off the Virginia coast.

South San Francisco-based Solazyme, which ferments algae to produce oil that can be refined into fuel, is one of two big players in the Navy’s biofuels program. The other is Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels, a Tyson Foods-Syntroleum joint venture that makes its fuel from used cooking oil and non-food-grade animal fats. Last December the Navy said it will pay $12 million to purchase a total of 450,000 gallons of biofuels from the companies to help power a carrier group during big maritime exercises this summer.

After November’s remotely controlled biofuel test, the Navy reported “there was absolutely no difference, whatsoever, in the operation or performance of the ship” using the algae-derived fuel. Solazyme said that was the case on this longer voyage as well.

“Feedback from the ship’s engineers was favorable; the crew reported that operational performance of the fuel system and gas turbine engines on the 50/50 blend was … comparable to operations on traditional petroleum F-76,” Solazyme said in a statement.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cliff-Claven/100003175960268 Cliff Claven

    Yo, taxpayers, the Navy spent $3,158 a barrel for this algae fuel.  The exact cost of the algae biofuel used for this political stunt was $75.20 a gallon ($5,640,000
    for 75,000 gallons bought from Solazyme in September of 2010).  I say stunt because 55 blends of biofuels were already tested for commercial use before January of 2011 and there is no need to prove that usable fuel can be made–it can.  What is not possible is to make it from algae at anything close to a competitive price.  The most recent Navy purchase of biofuels was $26.75 a gallon for diesel and jet fuel made from chicken fat.  That isn’t going to become competitive either.  Meanwhile, conventional fuel is available to the military for $2.30 a gallon, even after all the recent oil price volatility.  This is what the Navy is willing to pay to be able to put a specious “green” label on its ships and airplanes. After all, it doesn’t cost them anything, it’s taxpayer money, and they get to make political points with their boss.

    • Pete Danko

      I share your skepticism about biofuels, Cliff — see this piece I wrote a few months ago http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/01/its-time-to-move-past-ethanol/. And I think it’s quite reasonable to question what the military has been up to with the aggressive biofuels program begun by President Bush and continued under President Obama. But by the numbers you quote, it appears the costs are dropping rather quickly: from $75.20/gal in September 2010 to $26.75/gal in December 2011 (the 450,000 gallons purchased at $12 million). Also, since the algae-derived fuel is blended 50-50 with conventional fuel, the correct cost figure would be 1/2(algae fuelt+conventional cost), or around $15/gal. Still extremely high, but about a fifth of the eye-popping $75.20 figure you led with. In any case, I think the larger question is not the costs today, since the Navy is really paying for R&D here; the question is whether the costs will ever by anywhere near where they need to be in order to give the military what it says it is looking for: energy security.

      • dduggerbiocepts

        Cliff – read the same article. Read the source article again – the 26.75 was for veggie biofuel – the algae oil price isn’t actually given. The Navy paid over $400 for it’s 2010 purchase of algae oil. I see lots of claims for low cost of algae biofuels, but you just can’t seem to buy it.

        Probably the best indicator for economic feasibility of biofuels – is when you see them at the neighborhood filling station – or have one of their own. Starting with corn ethanol the whole biofuel endeavor has been one great scam to date – between fat gov. grants and carbon credits. It hasn’t quite dawned on the biofuel crowd that the avg. barrel of traditional crude oil cost less than $40 to produce – remember actual market price crude was less than $13/barrel in 1998, less than $30 in 2008. Biofuel enthusiast think they are competing with the market price at $107 or so. Wait to the sheiks think there is serious competition and watch what happens to oil prices.

        Show me the biofuel filling stations and then we will all know their is economic credibility – if not sustainability in biofuels.

      • Cl1ffClav3n

        The cost per gallon of a biofuel does not change based on the mixing ratio. One gallon of biofuel displaces exactly one gallon of conventional fuel. The choice is how many gallons of biofuel at a fixed price can you afford to mix in. Don’t be duped by this disingenuous sleight-of-hand of mixing down the price. Also, be careful of mixing apples and oranges in comparing prices. The $26.75/gal fuel is from Dynamic Fuels and is predominantly Tyson chicken fat-based with just a hint (undisclosed but small fraction) of Solazyme algae. The $75.20/gal fuel was pure Solazyme algae fuel and the price I quoted was exact. The lowest price paid by the U.S. government for 100% algae-based hydrotreated fuel is $61.33 a gallon in August 2011 for 75,000 gallons of Solazyme F-76 oil purchased by the Navy.

    • dduggerbiocepts

        Cliff
      – read the same article. Read the source article again – the 26.75 was
      for veggie biofuel – the algae oil price isn’t actually given. The Navy
      paid over $400 for it’s 2010 purchase of algae oil. I see lots of claims
      for low cost of algae biofuels, but you just can’t seem to buy it.

      Probably the best indicator for economic feasibility of biofuels – is
      when you see them at the neighborhood filling station – or have one of
      their own. Starting with corn ethanol the whole biofuel endeavor has
      been one great scam to date – between fat gov. grants and carbon
      credits. It hasn’t quite dawned on the biofuel crowd that the avg.
      barrel of traditional crude oil cost less than $40 to produce – remember
      actual market price crude was less than $13/barrel in 1998, less than
      $30 in 2008. Biofuel enthusiast think they are competing with the market
      price at $107 or so. Wait to the sheiks think there is serious
      competition and watch what happens to oil prices.

      Show me the biofuel filling stations and then we will all know their
      is economic credibility – if not sustainability in biofuels.

  • dduggerbiocepts

     When you have a license to protect and kill the nations enemies – real
    and perceived- you want to make sure you can get from here to there –
    even if the Straits of Hormuz get plugged. That said and regarding the
    viability of biofuels in general – it makes the Navy’s purchase a
    meaningless indicator for biofuel economic feasibility and
    sustainability. There existence and mission depend on having fuel –
    whatever it costs the rest of us.

    Biofuel proponents are amazingly ignorant, or in significant scientific
    denial of the need for NPK to generate significant biofuels (veggie or
    algae) and the relatively limited supply of currently irreplaceable rock
    phosphates in NPK – that feeds 95 % of us dumbass humans. (Search for
    Peak Phosphate.) Recycling helps, but current estimates say that with a
    trillion dollars and a 50 year infrastructural re-dedesign of the
    countries sewer systems waste generated biofuels might provide 3% of
    energy needs. You might have noticed personally the absolutely stunning
    lack of results the dramatic impact our govs. most recent promises and
    squandered billions for “infrastructure renewal” have had around the
    country. I would hold my breath for a nutrient recycling national sewer
    initiative – or any results if it passed.

  • Dcalvoman

    Now that sounds like progress in the right direction

  • Team

    Great news. Algae progress – watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP_HbQ5cWSk

  • JimWalker

    What a deal at $400 a gallon!  How did these idiots ever get ahold of the purse strings of the American Taxpayer? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeddie-Neal-Churchill/1206183209 Jeddie Neal Churchill

    No one is this stupid. Some criminal in our government is getting rich off our taxes!!!!