Navy Draws Heavy Media Coverage for Biggest Biofuel Sea Trial

11/21/11Follow @bvbigelow

It seems doubtful that the U.S. Navy has ever gotten as much media attention for offshore cruising between San Diego and Port Hueneme as the decommissioned destroyer Paul H. Foster received last week.

The Spruance-class destroyer, which has been refitted to serve in various ways as an ocean-going test platform, arrived at the naval base near Oxnard, CA, about 185 miles north of San Diego, Thursday morning after a 17-hour transit powered by a fuel blend that included algae-derived biofuel. It was the Navy’s largest alternative fuel trial.

The overnight sojourn was intended as a demonstration of the Navy’s plan to expand the use of “drop-in” biofuels that would require no changes to Navy engines, ships, supply infrastructure, or fueling piers. The only difference is that the biofuel was derived from algae, or “green crude,” instead of conventional fuels made from petroleum-based crude. (A pretty good account of the demonstration is here.)

San Francisco-based Solazyme provided the algae-based biofuel, which can be produced in its U.S.-based facility in a few days, according to Stephanie Tabor, a spokeswoman for the company. “We use standard industrial fermentation equipment to efficiently scale and accelerate microalgae’s natural oil production time to a few days,” Tabor says in an e-mail this afternoon. Solazyme’s technology is flexible, she says, “and can utilize a wide variety of renewable plant-based sugars, such as sugarcane-based sucrose, dextrose, and sugars from other sustainable biomass sources including cellulosics.”

As we reported last year, the Navy has decided for reasons of energy security, naval strategy, and environmental stewardship to develop and certify alternative fuels that can be used instead of standard-issue ship and aircraft fuels.  Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has announced a goal of conducting a test exercise next year with a “Great Green Fleet”—a 13-ship carrier battle group powered either by nuclear energy or 50-50 blends of biofuels, based on press reports.

The Foster took on about 20,000 gallons of diesel biofuel that Solazyme delivered to the Defense Fuel Supply Point at Naval Base Point Loma. It was blended 50-50 with a standard naval marine diesel known as F-76 (a NATO specification), and used in gas-turbine engines aboard the Foster that are equivalent to engines in U.S. destroyers and cruisers around the world.

“For our program with the Defense Logistics Agency,” Tabor says, “we are supplying the U.S. Navy with renewable F-76 diesel fuel and renewable JP-5 jet fuel for testing and certification.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • fatalgae

    “We need legislation to allow the Defense Department to enter long-term contracts for fuels to attract investment,” said Billy Glover, Boeing managing director for environmental strategy. “Financiers are looking for a commitment of at least 10 years by a party with a AAA credit rating as a prerequisite for underwriting.”

    Billy Glover needs to be educated – financiers want results, not long-term bs. Lenders are not going to commit to 10 year contarcts to an airline industry that is insolvent.

    Didn’t Boeing receive grants from the US government and then went to China for biofuels? Isn’t that a breach of national security?

    Heard Solazyme cost was $400 per gallon. According to their S-1 they are not in production. They need third-party growers.

  • Cliff Claven

    The Navy has paid $425 a gallon for this algae fuel. The DLA-Fuels contract for $8.5M to Solazyme of San Francisco for 20,000 gallons of algae diesel fuel is on the official Feb Biz Ops web page under solicitation BAA040008. The Navy also bought 1,500 gallons of Solazyme jet fuel for aircraft testing for only $149/gallon under solicitation SP0600-09-R-0704. Solazyme is also simultaneously getting $110M from DOE (Dr. Chu of the Solyndra debacle) for R&D, so the true cost of the fuel is still even higher. The lowest price currently being paid by the US Military for biofuels is $67/gallon, while normal military/commercial fuels (F-76 diesel oil and JP-8/Jet A-1 jet fuel) are less than $3/gallon! These are your tax dollars at work when we are cutting people and equipment to try to balance record budget deficits. In January 2011, RAND Corp. published a study saying the military should abandon these biofuels ship and airplane tests because they are nothing but political stunts that prove nothing new. Airlines and other commercial entities have already proved that more than 55 different biofuel blends are burnable. That is trivial. The real challenge is producing biofuel economically, which is impossible. This story needs to be told.

  • fatalage

    Another story that needs to be told is the fact that 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.

    The 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?

    In 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!

  • PDaddy

    Been following these folks for years. Interesting thing I found during Google searches:
    Found a “person” listed as Owner: Solazyme who donated a few thousand dollars to Democrat candidates. No big deal. Then noted the person’s spouse donated over $60,000 to various Dems including Pelosi and Obama in 2008 alone. The spouse is a daycare director. Don’t know about you folks, but $60K is a nice chunk out of my salary. This was before Solazyme went public. This is Solyndra light where contracts are let and campaign money flows back in gratitude. The government sponsoring things like this give these companies the appearance of legitimacy; that’s the real crime.

    Also sent a FOIA request to Ft Belvoir about those contracts. They had the prices XXX and told me it was because it was a trade secret! Like I couldn’t do division! Yeah right…

    Another interesting one is Algenol (now in Florida). $25 million fed grant, $10 million grant from Lee County Florida. Sponsored by all the top political types including Sen Bill Nelson. Won’t produce squat without massive Government assistance.

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  • fatalgae

    Lets stop the nonsense. Algae researchers have some big problems these days. According to the DOE less than 20% of algae research projects have been completed to date and nothing commercialized in the last 50 plus years of research at universities. Heard Greg Freidman at the IG’s office is investigating DOE algae research grants and loan gurantees.

  • fatalgae

    ARPA-E halts algae project, citing missed milestones
    Jim Lane | February 16, 2012

    Share”In Washington, the DOE has halted a research project at Iowa State University funded by ARPA-E to develop biofuel feedstock from an aquatic micro-organism for failing to reach research milestones. About 56% of the $4.4 million grant was used. Politicians against increasing APRA-E funding as proposed by President Obama’s new budget are using it and other halted ARPA-E projects as examples to reject the program.”

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