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Fueling the Navy's Great Green Fleet with Advanced Biofuels

From transporting the oil necessary to fuel jets and vehicles to supplying battery packs to infantry, energy plays a central role in almost everything the U.S. military does.

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From transporting the oil necessary to fuel jets and vehicles to supplying battery packs to infantry, energy plays a central role in almost everything the U.S. military does. Because of this reliance, it’s imperative that the military cultivate energy sources that are not subject to the whims of outside nations. While renewables like solar are playing a large role in this effort, advanced biofuels produced domestically are rapidly becoming another choice for transportation fuel.

The latest milestone in this effort to secure our energy supply is today’s (Dec. 5) announcement that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of domestically produced advanced drop-in biofuel on behalf of the Navy. This agreement builds off of a recent partnership between the Navy and the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to invest up to $510 million to produce advanced biofuels for military and commercial transportation – and represents the largest of purchase of biofuel ever undertaken by the U.S. government.

By 2016, the Navy plans to deploy a Great Green Fleet powered entirely by alternative fuels. The advanced biofuels that will help fuel the Navy’s proposed ships and planes could be made from a variety of biomass ingredients, in a number of regions across the country.

So what’s behind the rise of biofuels? In large part, it’s been significant advancements in the pursuit of a better recipe for biofuels. Instead of processing commodities that might otherwise be used for food, next generation fuels can be produced from dedicated energy crops like switchgrass, to the non-edible parts of corn plants, to unmarketable wood from the lumber industry -- taking resources that would otherwise go to waste and using them to fuel our energy independence.

As the video from Idaho National Lab shows, the Energy Department and its research partners are working on new methods and systems to transform these raw, bulky biomass sources into dense, high-quality materials for improved transport, storage, and conversion to fuels, power, and products. Raw biomass resources are located across the nation but often aren’t dense enough to be transported cost-effectively. Addressing logistics challenges are essential for a thriving biofuels industry. Recipes for creating these quality feedstocks for biorefineries include R&D in three key process areas:

  1. Preconversion – treatments to address challenges such as reducing size, lowering moisture content, and removing contaminants.
  2. Formulation – blending resource varieties and additives, improving conversion reactions.
  3. Densification – using temperature and pressure to produce high-density, stable, and consistent feedstock products.

These kinds of improvements, often resulting in the form of small, dense pellets, enable biomass to be transported greater distances at lower costs and stored for longer periods of time. In addition, these improvements provide more consistent, dependable feedstocks for the biorefineries that are converting biomass into America’s next generation of clean, renewable biofuels and bioproducts.

This ongoing dedication to advancing the next generation of biofuels will not only bolster the economy, it will help safeguard the security of both the United States and its military for generations to come.