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Navy Going Greenest

The Navy made clear this week it's the lead service when it comes to eco-friendly efforts. Today, the Navy flew the “Green Hornet,” an F/A-18 fueled by a mixture of bio-fuels and aviation fuels; the bio fuels come from camelina, a mustard plant. Green Hornets will form a green strike wing aboard a carrier that will be the center of the “Great Green Fleet,” a strike group to be deployed in 2016.

We contacted the Navy and got these fun facts from the PR firm working with the fuel's producer, a company sensibly called Sustainable Oils. It takes one ton of camelina seed to produce 85 gallons of camelina oil. It takes about two gallons of camelina oil to produce one gallon of biojet fuel using the current plant. Once commercial plants are built o the yield should be closer 1.2 gallons of camelina oil to one gallon of biojet. It now takes one two acres to grow that much camelina, but the company hopes to whittle that down to one acre.

How do the costs compare, we can hear you asking.  "Approximate cost for the 50 percent bio - 50 percent petroleum fuel used in today's (Earth Day) flight is $35 a gallon ($33 for the camelina portion plus $1.40 for petroleum-based portion)," a Navy spokesman said. So, right now, the mustard gas (a pun we could not resist) is considerably more expensive but it is not being produced in commercial quantities yet and, as we're sure Navy Secretary Ray Mabus would point out, it is grown in America and we don't have to import it.

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The carrier is nuclear powered and the rest of the Green Fleet will run on alternative fuels or use hybrid electric drives, Mabus said on a conference call to reporters this week. Of course, the Navy has a head start on the other services in green conversion as fully 17 percent of its ships are powered by nuclear reactors. By 2020, fully 50 percent of the Navy’s energy use will be from non-fossil sources, Mabus said, including large chunks of its 50,000 non-tactical vehicle fleet, 72,500 buildings and 4.4 million acres of land and of course its battle fleet.

The Navy intends to provide its gas turbine ships with hybrid electric power plants. For example, the Makin Island large deck amphib, commissioned in 2009, is equipped with an electric drive that kicks in when the ship steams under 10 knots; a normal gas turbine provides higher speeds. Based on today’s fuel prices, the Makin Island will save about a quarter billion dollars over its service life, Mabus said. Electric drive prototypes are being tested to outfit the new guided missile destroyers as well as being retrofitted into existing ships. The Navy’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint aren’t just for show, Mabus said, reducing its dependence on fossil fuels will make the force more lethal. Every time the service is able to sever a ship’s dependence on an oiler, it provides greater flexibility. Shipping gasoline to Marines in isolated combat outposts is costly and dangerous as supply lines are favorite targets of insurgent attacks. “The Navy has always led in energy changes. In the 1850s we went from sail to coal, in the early part of 20th century went from coal to oil, in the 1950s we went into nuclear power,” Mabus said.

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