The Navy and Bio-Fuel

For the last few years, the Navy has been pouring a lot of valuable money into bio-fuel research. The way that the project has been sold has been as a way to make the fleet more environmentally friendly, reducing emissions and the like. Now anyone who knows much about the engineering of ships knows that for the majority of our fleet, we use gas turbines in our main propulsion plants, and gas turbines burn through an exorbitant amount of gas in under the most “economical” of conditions. Because of this, the bio-fuel campaign has come under great scrutiny as a waste of money, including just recently from the Honorable Randy Forbes (R-VA).

The Navy used 20,000 gallons of algae-derived fuel for a November test in San Diego. Here, Lt. Cmdr. Frank Kim compares sample bottles of traditional diesel fuel and the alternative blend. Photo Courtesy of Dept of the Navy.

But the idea of “greening” the fleet isn’t all bad, it’s just being sold the wrong way. Having the ability to power our ships using bio-fuel as well as regular marine diesel provides us flexibility in the event that standard oil supplies are cut-off. Flexibility is crucial in warfare, as our adeptness at being able to roll with the punches can mean the difference between being victorious or having our rear-ends handed to us. And that being the case, we need to sell to Congress that we need to pursue bio-fuel alternatives in order to maintain superiority on the sea.

The only caveat is that bio-fuel isn’t the most economical way of providing independence from the vagaries of the oil market. The best way to do this is to convert as much of the fleet as possible to nuclear power. The joy about nuclear plants is that they don’t produce carbon emissions, they don’t need to be fueled up for decades, and they can run nearly indefinitely, meaning that a ship’s range is only limited by the amount of food and fresh water it can carry.

The only downside to a nuclear fleet is the amount of money required on the front end to install the reactor and propulsion plant. In the end, both initiatives are necessary, as well as increasing our domestic oil production as much as possible.

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