News / Science & Technology

Biofuels Powering Navy Jets, Helicopters and Boats

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to VOA about the Navy's use of biofuels made from algae and mustard seed.

Ray Mabus, US Secretary of the Navy
Ray Mabus, US Secretary of the Navy
Rebecca Ward

Environmentalists have long complained that so long as diesel or gasoline remains relatively inexpensive, there is little incentive to come up with alternative, greener energies for transportation.  But the price of oil and gasoline isn't the only reason to go green.  The United States Navy says they are making a tactical decision to find cleaner alternatives.  Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus says that by 2012, the military branch plans to demonstrate a carrier strike group that uses alternative fuels.

“We're calling that the 'great green fleet,’ like we call the F-18 Hornet that's flying on biofuels, the Green Hornet.”

The Navy has successfully tested biofuels in various air and sea craft.  Secretary Mabus says instead of purchasing new vehicles that run on alternative energy, the Navy has found biofuels that can work with its current fleet.

"We have certified the F-18.  We have certified the helicopter.  We have certified the Riverine boat.  We're working on other combatants now.  And it's because we've got most of the airplanes, we've got most of the ships, most of the boats we're going to have over the next 10 years.  And if we're going to reach the goal of producing half of all our energy from non-fossil fuel sources, we're going to have to do it with the equipment we've got."

Using greener fuels, Secretary Mabus says, may be good for the environment and the economy.  But the push toward alternative energies is also a strategic move.

"We buy too much fuel from the most potentially volatile places on earth. We wouldn't allow them to buy our ships and aircraft.  But we do give them a 'vote' on whether those ships sail and those aircraft fly because we do buy fuel from them.  We also have very tactical reasons for it.  To get a gallon of gasoline to a Marine frontline in Afghanistan, it's very expensive, it's very difficult, and it's very dangerous.”

For consumers, fuel produced from algae, wood chips, mustard seed or other organic sources has yet to be mass marketed.  But Secretary Mabus says that is likely to change as the military’s demand for alternative energy grows.

"The military oftentimes is the cutting edge of technology and the rest of America follows.  And I think that's because (of) how much energy we use, the market we can establish and driving the price down, making sure the infrastructure is being constructed.  Then it makes it really easy to move it into the bigger economy and move it out of the military sphere."

For now, the U.S. Navy is using a biofuel blend that includes petroleum products. The reason about 50 percent of petroleum fuel is included is for engine lubrication.  But Secretary Mabus says with continued research, biofuels may eventually be able to deliver the correct amount of lubrication on their own.

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