Navy: Biofuel Technology is Here

According to an article on, biofuel technology has arrived. While several legislators fight to stop the military from pursuing the use of biofuels, Secretary Ray Mabus says the Navy will continue to develop biofuel technology for use in its ships and aircraft. During a luncheon on October 9th, Mabus said the technology is already here.

Research shows that between 2018 and 2024, biofuels will be a viable alternative fuel. What Mabus is focusing on is how to speed up that timeframe and make biofuel technology more competitive with current technologies.

The Navy is currently putting together a “Green Fleet” of ships that use alternative fuels. They are also developing a “Green Hornet” F-18 based on the same concept they are using for their ships.

Mabus says one of the more interesting technologies the Navy is pursing is to hone the chemistry for producing jet fuel while in “theater”. In other words, the ability to develop alternative jet fuel when a troop is deployed. The most promising pricess would catalytically convert carbon dioxide hydrogen gas directly to liquid hydrocarbon fuel used as JP-5, a process being developed and honed by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

The article says that NRL has already successfully developed and demonstrated technologies for the recovery of carbon dioxide and the production of hydrogen gas from seawater using an electrochemical acidification cell. From there the hydrogen gas is converted to hydrocarbons that can be used to produce jet fuel.

Yet despite the promising technology, Mabus says the Navy doesn’t have a favorite technology and their goal is to simply keep develop alternatives.

6 thoughts on “Navy: Biofuel Technology is Here

  1. If you’re an airline CEO or the Secretary of the Navy or a civilian consumer, here is your current choice for “drop-in” true hydrocarbon fuels: $2.08 a gallon for standard military bulk contract petroleum-based Jet A-1/JP-4, $3.90 a gallon to SASOL for coal-based synthetic fuel, $7.00 a gallon to PM Group for natural gas-based synthetic fuel, $26.75 a gallon to Dynamic Fuels for Tyson chicken fat-based fuel (with a hint of algae–the fuel used recently by the Navy for the Great Green Fleet), $34.90 a gallon to Sustainable Oils for camelina-based jet fuel, $59.00 a gallon to Gevo for alcohol-to-jet fuel (have since left the fuel business along with Amyris), $61.33 a gallon to Solazyme for sugar-fed algae-based fuel, $4,454.55 a gallon to Albemarle for converting Cobalt n-butanol to jet fuel, $11,248.99 a gallon to Honeywell UOP for converting Gevo isobutanol to jet fuel. These are the most recent prices paid by various branches of the U.S. government. These prices are driven by the progressively poorer thermodynamics of the processes involved. The inconvenient truth of all biofuels is that they are critically dependent upon fossil fuel energy. If we run out of oil, we run out of biofuels (and more importantly food) because natural gas and crude oil provide the hydrogen and carbon that makes our ammonia fertilizer and pesticide and herbicide and machinery fuel and processing plant energy and the hydrogen used to hydro-treat the end product alcohol or lipid into airlines and military quality fuel. The prices of biofuels are already shown to track with the price of oil, and follow oil proportionately higher when oil prices spike. They also track with the agricultural commodities markets and thus have even more price volatility than petroluem fuel. Even corn ethanol, the simplest and highest-yield fuel per acre, and one which has been subsidized at more than $6B a year since 2005, which and has a government-guaranteed market of 13B gallons a year, is still 40 cents a gallon more expensive than premium gasoline on a MPG-corrected basis (see what the unlucky E85 customer is paying at AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.” ). Biofuels will never arrive. They are an attempt at perpetual motion in chemistry: turning hydrocarbons into carbohydrates and back into hydrocarbons. It only appears to work when subsidized by large amounts of external energy and cash. This is an epic scam by the politically connected against the thermodynamically challenged.


    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE GRANT AND LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE GRANT AND LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with algae projects less than 20% completed. Investigations are going on all DOE Biomass Program Grants to algae researchers.

    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, algae research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!

    A Concerned Taxpayer

  3. I think you make valid points, but your conclusion is flawed. Subsidies will never work, let the free market decide and while we are at it, quit subsidizing oil and gas and let’s see if biofuels are a reality or not.

  4. Cliff, you are silly, confused, and a genuine nay sayer. You cannot compare “off the shelf buys” with research and development costs.

    For example, which would you buy, a $30K car from a car lot, or a $5 million dollar car from the lab, oh yeah, the latter is still in R&D.

    Headline ” GM wants to sell $5 Million cars!!”

    Get focused.

  5. @Omvijoca: great argument except the Military is not supporting labs, it is supporting commercial enterprises and buying their astronomically priced products in bulk. So far it has bought 1.3M gallons at more than $48 a gallon. The Navy just bought 450,000 gallons at $26.75 @, the Air Force just put out a $210M solicitation for more, and the Army has $7B on the table. Now they have been directed by their political masters to do more than just buy the fuels; they are now are being forced to spend $510M on bio-refinery construction for stuff you rightfully point out is not commercially viable yet. The military is being used to prop up start-ups with politically-connected shareholders like Solazyme, Gevo, Syntroleum, Sustainable Oils, and Honeywell UOP. This is in spite of the military facing a $400B cut on January first due to sequestration.

  6. Pingback: Biodico & Navy Sign Advanced Biofuels Contract - Domestic Fuel