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Navy Department seeking alternative fuels

Oct. 25, 2010 - 05:58AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 25, 2010 - 05:58AM  |  
Lance Cpl. Benjamin R. Nadall, a motor vehicle operator with 3rd Platoon, Combat Logistics Company 111, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd), pumps gasoline in his fuel tank after a eight-hour re-supply operation through the Al Anbar Province of Iraq in preparation for the next day's mission. The platoon engages in re-supply missions throughout Al Anbar Province at least three times a week, running operations from base to base to supply other units with what they need to complete their mission, said Staff Sgt. Michael W. Nichols, 30, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon.
Lance Cpl. Benjamin R. Nadall, a motor vehicle operator with 3rd Platoon, Combat Logistics Company 111, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd), pumps gasoline in his fuel tank after a eight-hour re-supply operation through the Al Anbar Province of Iraq in preparation for the next day's mission. The platoon engages in re-supply missions throughout Al Anbar Province at least three times a week, running operations from base to base to supply other units with what they need to complete their mission, said Staff Sgt. Michael W. Nichols, 30, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon. (Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson / Marine Corps)
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In an effort to meet energy-conservation goals set in 2009 by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the department's top leaders met in Washington, D.C., in mid-October to brainstorm. For the second year running, they discussed ways to meet those goals with a large emphasis places on alternative fuels.

The Marine Corps and Navy, for example, need alternative fuel to mix with or replace the fuel burned by ground vehicles, aircraft and ships. That covers, roughly, all or partly alternative gasoline, standard diesel, JP-5 jet fuel and marine diesel that today's engines and equipment can burn without being modified.

Researchers have tested alternative blends in much of the fleet's important equipment, including Marine Corps vehicles, a Super Hornet fighter jet and, most recently, a riverine patrol boat. Other services are also doing their own tests; this summer, the Air Force flew a biofuel-powered C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane.

As optimistic as fleet officials are about the potential for biofuel to enable the Corps and the Navy to use less imported oil, alternative fuel remains exponentially more expensive than traditional petroleum. Last year, the Navy paid $424 per gallon for 20,055 gallons of biodiesel made from algae, which set a world record at the time for the cost of fuel.

Getting biofuel production on pace with petroleum also will be a major challenge. Skeptics wonder whether there's enough arable land in the U.S. to grow the grasses and other plants needed to produce industrial levels of biofuels and, moreover, what effect a glut of energy agriculture would have on the price of food.

Despite the questions and challenges, Mabus told participants at the naval energy forum that he was still fully behind burning more alternative fuels across the fleet, and that he still supports fielding an all-nuclear or alternative-powered carrier strike group, "the Great Green Fleet," by 2016.

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