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?