Americas Next Great Fuel Source

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The United States Navy, the world’s largest single user of marine fuels, burns around 40 million barrels of oil a year. It is busy trying to find a replacement for the dirty, planet killing substance and has pledged to cut 50% of its conventional oil use a year by 2020.

Maybe they should install windmills on every ship, or replace the aircraft carriers flight decks with solar panels.

While both of my suggestions hold merit, the Department of the Navy is instead experimenting with algae oil as a way to wean itself from petroleum.

Drilling for our own oil is evidently out of the question.

It seems our military has not only become a great social experiment but has also become the next laboratory for the green movement.

Industry reports claim that unlike early biofuels, which made transport fuel from food crops, the new “second generation” process uses only plant (crop) waste and does not displace foods which could be fed to people. Nevertheless, immense amounts of feedstock (nutrients) would be needed to produce the algae oil to power the world’s ships.

Maersk, the worlds largest shipping line, estimates it would take the crop waste (feedstock) of an area half the size of Denmark to completely power its ships.

Math time: Half of Denmark is roughly the size of Massachusetts (the whole state), about 16,600 square miles. There are 460 acres in a square mile. That’s 7,636,000 acres for one shipping company. What a deal. The entire proposed ANWR oil drilling site was 1,500,000 acres (3260 sq miles).

Unfortunately crop waste or “residue” is not just waste. It is already being utilized as livestock feed & fertilizer. Thus the name, “feedstock”. So, instead of diverting a primary food source like corn, we deplete a secondary source. Either way, the cost of food goes up. Hooray for more starving people!

Speaking of cost, in October 2010, the US Navy purchased 20 thousand gallons of algae biofuel for a single Naval ship trial.

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, speaking at the Point Loma Naval Base pier proclaimed, “ This event marks a major milestone in our progress toward a great green fleet”.

How much did they pay for this major milestone, you might ask? Only $424 a gallon. Crack the Champagne!

The cost has apparently come down though. Couldn’t be due to the Navy, the U.S. Energy and Agriculture departments investing $170 million each to fund biofuel development.

By the way, that 20,000 gallons of green crude was supplied by Solazyme, a San Francisco-based biofuel company.

And, just a rumination. San Francisco is in who’s congressional district? Oh, that’s right, Nancy Pelosi. Sheer coincidence. I’m such a cynic.

So, I guess mankind has developed yet another “viable”, cost efficient alternative to the dreaded hydrocarbon.

What’s next, The Matrix?

2 comments on “Americas Next Great Fuel Source

  1. There’s a bit of confusion here. Algae requires no crop waste. It only needs water and co2. Something we have in abundance and need to utilize instead of just releasing into the environment.
    Algae biodiesel is now being produced for about $20/gallon, and the price will go down as production goes up, especially with Obama’s speech yesterday and especially if he backs it up with some subsidies. I’ve been researching algae (amatuer) for about five years. It has great potential. Personally I’d like to see a de-industrialization, less driving, less long distance imports, etc, but algae has the potential to be produced low-tech. It allows for use of waste water. Algae plants attached to coal plants and other industries utilize co2 and and are cheaper and more functional that traditional smokestack scrubbers. It’s no surprise the military are cluing in. Whereas as soy and canola (the crops we would grow here in the north) produce up to 150 gallons per acre of oil per year, algae can produce 5,000-20,000 gallons per acre per year. So if we are going to have biofuel at all, this is the way to go. At least until we’ve discovered zero-point fusion.
    In terms of crop waste, I’m not sure what process is being described here. Could be thermal depolymerization, which uses high pressure steam to turn waste into oil.

    • Alagae requires land, water, CO2 & nutrients. Where do the nutrients come from? The algae also has to be temperature controlled. I’ve only seen up to 10,000 gallons per acre. The best you can hope for is at a 50@50 productivity, it would take in excess of 20 million acres. Where are you going to get that land? Lots of things have potential. Those who wish to produce it should be free to do so, and sell it to whomever wants it without being forced.The government has no business susidizing it.

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