Ships and aircraft in the next Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise could be running on biofuels, and they won’t even need to know it, according to speakers at an Alternative Fuels Overview briefing for RIMPAC 2014 participants.
The briefing drew over 40 officers and officials from seven nations – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Mexico and the United States.
Joelle Simonpietri, U.S. Pacific Command’s operational manager for energy and contingency basing, spelled out the need to develop alternative fuels in order to reduce a major driver of conflict. This is especially true in the Pacific, which has the world’s largest energy demand and lowest fossil energy resources; where the “tyranny of distance” is most acute, and everything must travel long distances. She also noted that only a handful of the 36 nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region are petroleum exporters.
Fossil fuel price volatility has meant that “in several of the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Defense has had to do significant budget machinations,” Simonpietri said. Development of alternative fuels closer to operations shortens and diversifies supply lines. It can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and foster “good neighbor” cooperation among nations.
Simonpietri said Department of Defense Alternative Fuel Policy requires that replacement fuels must be “drop-in” fuels and meet existing fuel specifications. The biofuels must utilize existing transportation and distribution infrastructure and require no modifications to weapons platforms. Moreover, these alternative fuels must be cost-competitive with petroleum fuel and have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are no worse than conventional fuels while also complying with existing procurement, energy, health and safety laws and regulations. Biofuels can be made from a variety of feedstocks, including crop residues, woody biomass, dedicated energy crops, vegetable oils, animal fats, and algae. Simonpietri also made the important point that biofuel production must complement rather than compete with food crops.
The “drop-in biofuel” the Defense Department wants is not the same as the familiar ethanol and biodiesel — first- and second-generation biofuels — that are used in cars and trucks. What the Defense Department is pursuing is third-generation biofuel “drop-in” replacements for diesel and jet fuels that are used in aircraft and ships. These biofuels are much more advanced, have far less oxygen than ethanol and biodiesel, and contain the same energy density as their petroleum-based counterparts.
Chris Tindal, director for operational energy in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, said that in RIMPAC 2012 the Navy successfully demonstrated the Great Green Fleet, operating a carrier strike group’s surface ships and aircraft with a biofuel blend without incident. In fact, the Great Green Fleet 2012 demonstration was a significant milestone of the Navy’s testing and certification program for “drop-in” biofuels derived from used cooking oils and algae.
The next milestone, Tindal said, is 2016, when the Navy intends to “sail the Great Green Fleet 2016.”
Rather than one group of ships, he said, the Navy plans for biofuels to comprise up to 50 percent of the fuel used by deploying ships and aircraft throughout the fleet in calendar year 2016. Procurement has already begun for advanced drop-in biofuels. Selection of platforms and locations for the 2016 effort will happen later.
However, biofuel use in the Navy will not end at the conclusion of 2016 after the sailing of the Great Green Fleet, as “it will mark the start of the Navy’s ‘New Normal,'” Tindal said.
Leading up to that milestone, the Navy has already issued solicitations for operational quantities of alternative fuel in the Western U.S. and Western Pacific. Alternative fuels could be purchased and distributed through Navy oilers as early as January 2015. He and Simonpietri stressed that in order to be accepted for Defense Department use, biofuels or biofuel blends must be virtually indistinguishable from their fossil fuel equivalents. Because of that, participants in RIMPAC 2016 could very well be operating on biofuels without needing to be aware of it.
Tindal and Simonpietri encouraged the foreign members of the audience to facilitate government cooperation, and offered to share U.S. test and certification data for alternative fuels. They also encouraged the officers to consider future possibilities where their nation could both supply fuel to the U.S. Department of Defense and produce it for their own military and aviation use.
RIMPAC is a multinational maritime exercise that takes place in and around the Hawaiian islands and Southern California. Twenty-two nations, 49 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial exercise from June 26 – Aug. 1.
The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
Press Release, July 04, 2014; Image: US Navy