The United States Navy's "Great Green Fleet" took off Wednesday with 450,000 gallons of biofuel to burn and the support of U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The anticipated launch of the fleet kicked off with participation in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the largest international maritime exercise in the world. Six ships were used in the exercise, which took place off the coast of Hawaii.
Part of President Obama's initiative to decrease dependence on foreign oil, using biofuels for the exercise allowed the Navy to test their "operational performance." Mabus said the ability to use fuels other than petroleum will increase flexibility and reduce vulnerability to changes in the price of oil.
To illustrate his point, Mabus said every dollar change in a barrel of oil means about $30 million in additional costs to the Navy.
Because of the price changes and security concerns, Mabus indicated that the military is committed to using biofuels now and in the future.
"I think the participation of the very top leadership of the Navy was a strong signal to the men and women in uniform, to our allies, and even to our skeptics," Mabus said, "that the whole Navy is committed to pursing alternatives to foreign oil and the whole Navy believes it is critical to our combat capabilities and to our national security."
To solidify agreement with allies, Mabus signed a Statement of Cooperation with the Royal Australian Navy to formalize future cooperation on alternative fuel deployment during the exercise. Mabus said the statement will guide the two countries on how to best partner and combine resources.
"What this shows is this isn't just a concern for the United States. The fact that we signed this agreement with one of our closest allies and that they are so committed as well, speaks volumes to the need for an alternative to the price shocks and the supply shocks that fossil fuels can be subject to," Mabus said.
Agriculture will benefit from the Navy's use of biofuels as well. The fuel used was obtained from two American companies, and was derived from a combination of non-food waste (used cooking oil) and algae.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said using these mediums for biofuel production will create new opportunities for the development of a bio-based economy, playing into the strengths of rural America. He said the biofuel industry employs about 400,000 Americans, but expects new opportunities to increase that number to one million.
Vilsack praised the biofuel industry for creating competition as well, which Vilsack estimates will lessen price fluctuation.
To facilitate more involvement in the industry, the Navy partnered with the USDA earlier this month to announce $30 million in funding available for the research and development of new biodiesel jet fuel, which they hope will drive new technological breakthroughs and reduce costs.
Political Debate Continues
Despite praise from Vilsack, Mabus and some on Capitol Hill, other assorted politicians aren't so happy with the debut of the green fleet.
An outspoken opponent of military biofuel use is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In comments made regarding the National Defense Authorization Act in May, McCain said defense funds shouldn't be used to invigorate a commercial industry that can't make an affordable product, and the cost of the fuel doesn't address the military safety.
"In a tough budget climate for the Defense Department, we need every dollar to protect our troops on the battlefield with energy technologies that reduce fuel demand and save lives. Spending $26 per gallon of biofuel is not consistent with that goal," he said.
That $26 per gallon price tag compares to Reuters reported estimate of $3.60 a gallon for traditional fuels.Updated 7/20/12