Navy, USDA tout largest government biofuel purchase

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is buying a swimming pool’s worth of renewable fuel as part of a long-term effort to green up the Navy’s worldwide operations and cut dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck announced Monday that the Defense Logistics Agency was purchasing 450,000 gallons of biofuel that can directly replace fuel powering Navy ships and planes. Though a largely symbolic amount, the officials said it is likely the largest-ever single biofuel purchase by the U.S. government.

Domestically produced biofuels will lessen the military’s dependence on petroleum form overseas and “make us better war fighters,” Mabus said. What it won’t do – at least in the short term – is save any money in an era of constrained budgets. The $12 million purchase equates to a per-gallon cost of about $26. Mixed 50/50 with conventional fuel, as the Navy plans to use it, the cost is around $15 a gallon, Mabus said.

The price will drop toward that of conventional fuel as both technology and demand develop, he said.

“This is still R&D." he said. "It’s half of what we were paying this time last yea. It shows that as the market develops, you’re going to see costs come down.”

Though a tiny fraction of the Navy's yearly fuel budget – 450,000 gallons is not quite enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool – it will permit a carrier group to operate on biofuel during the 2012 Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, international maritime exercise.

The Navy and USDA announced a joint effort this spring to develop U.S. biofuel sources. As production ramps up, the Navy is planning to operate a carrier strike group on the biofuel blend by 2016.


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