Navy Sees ‘Farm To Fleet’ Biofuel Blends At Low Prices

The U.S. Navy has faced resistance from many conservatives in its quest to use advanced biofuels to power its ships and planes, but maybe putting a “homegrown” spin on the move – with a program called “Farm to Fleet” – will help quiet the critics.

The program, according to the Obama administration, is actually more than an alliterative, red-state-friendly name. Farm to Fleet will, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Navy said on Wednesday, allow the Navy to “make biofuel blends part of regular, operational fuel purchase and use by the military.” The ultimate goal, the Navy said, is to have a secure, stable fuel source, guarding against oil price spikes.

navy biofuels

in late 2011, this Self Defense Test Ship – the decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer Paul F. Foster, reconfigured to provide an unmanned test platform – made a 17-hour trek from San Diego to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme using a 50-50 blend of algae-derived, hydro-processed oil and a standard petroleum fuel. (image via U.S. Navy)

“A secure, domestically-produced energy source is very important to our national security,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement, while Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said “rural America stands ready to provide clean, homegrown energy that increases our military’s energy independence and puts Americans to work.”

The fuels – made variously from crops like soybeans, or from algae, or even from cooking grease – will no longer be special, one-off purchases. They’ll be bulk buys, with the first solicitation expected next year for delivery in 2015.

And will the prices be anywhere near the $26-a-gallon figure that raised hackles a couple of years ago?

Way lower, the USDA said: “Preliminary indications from the Defense Production Act Title III Advanced Drop-in Biofuels Production Project are that drop-in biofuels will be available for less than $4 per gallon by 2016, making them competitive with traditional sources of fuel.”

That seems like an amazing leap, but Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (USN, Ret.) told Biofuels Digest it’s going to happen.

“We are not going to pay a premium,” McGinn said. ““But we are going to expand the types of liquid fuels that the Navy is going to use. By reducing our dependence on a single fuel source, in the long-term we are going to protect the Navy from price volatility and increase our combat effectiveness.”

A key to making it possible will be that some of the blends will apparently have just a small amount of biofuel in them. With the Navy allowing blends from jet fuel (JP-5) and marine diesel (F-76) with a biofuel component anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, “Individual bidding companies will be able to determine, based on their own costs and capacities, how much of a biofuels component to include,” Jim Lane reported in Biofuels Digest.

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.

  • Cl1ffClav3n

    This is more taxpayer fleecing and open fraud. “Drop-in” biofuels today are still $30-$60 a gallon. There are hard limits of photosynthesis, thermodynamics, and critical fossil fuel dependencies in cultivated agriculture that limit liquid biofuels to always being more expensive per unit of energy delivered than fossil fuels. Even the Department of Energy reports that corn ethanol, after 8 years of $6 billion-per-year subsidies is still 85 cents more per gallon than gasoline per unit of energy put into the gas tank (http://www.afdc.energy.gov/publications/search/keyword/?q=alternative%20fuel%20price%20report).

    If the price of oil or gas skyrockets, so does the price of food and biofuels because they are critically dependent upon natural gas and petroleum for fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, equipment fuel, processing plant energy, and hydrotreatment hydrogen, and will comprise a minimum of 50% of any resulting blend. There is never going to be a price crossover. The most recent price paid by the US Air Force to GEVO bio-jet fuel in March of 2013 was $59 a gallon. This was the exact same price the Air Force paid for two previous purchases in 2012, and is higher than the $48/gal average price the US military has paid for the 1.4 million gallons of biofuel it has purchased from various vendors since 2009.

    So now the trick has become how to hide the high price. The key is to blend so little of the biofuel in that it is really just an additive or dilutant rather than contributing any significant portion of the energy content of the fuel. If they only put 2% Gevo biofuel into a gallon of $2.88/gal bulk petroleum fuel (yes current military fuel prices are that low), the net cost for this “biofuel blend” can be made to miraculously equal “only” $4.00/gal. But the military and biofuel industry will still advertise this sham as “biofuel.” They have already done it before. This is exactly what the Navy did in the summer of 2012 trying to claim biofuel it purchased from Dynamic Fuels for $26.75 a gallon was only $15 a gallon, recalculating the cost based on a 50-50 blend with far cheaper petroleum.

    This is all an intentional deception being perpetrated by political sycophants who are more concerned about their careers than true national security or energy security. DoD and USDA and DoE are bound and determined to give away $510 million dollars on new biorefineries to please Obama, and all they require for the snake oil entrepreneur to get the millions is to promise that they will produce a biofuel blend by 2016 for $4 a gallon. You can guess what the recipe will be.

    BTW, DoE already spent $603 million on 23 new biorefineries in 2010. How much cost-competitive biofuel have Americans gotten from that investment? Zero. Google “biofuel bankruptcy” to get a list of the hundreds of idled biorefineries currently available at firesale prices. Brazil has stopped constructing new biorefineries and is running their currently fleet of 402 at only 59% capacity. There is absolutely no reason to build a single one more.