The U.S. Navy recently trumpeted a shipment of Italian biofuel its “Green Fleet” got at a “competitive price,” but the military’s cost calculations mask the high cost of fueling up warships with green fuels.
T.A. Kiefer, a retired Navy captain and energy consultant, told the trade publication Ship & Bunker, the Navy’s claim they fueled their ships with biofuels for just $2.26 per gallon obscures the true cost to taxpayers.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Reuters in June the USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, gassed up with a fuel that was blended with 5.5 percent palm oil biofuel. The Navy said it cost $2.26 per gallon.
“A 5 percent blend should not even be called biofuel; it is petroleum fuel with an expensive additive,” Kiefer said.
According to Ship & Bunker, the fraction of biofuel used by the Navy actually costs $13.46 per gallon. The 94.5 percent of the conventional fuel the USS Mason filled up on only cost $1.60 per gallon — based on the current average price per metric ton.
What’s more is Ship & Bunker ran the numbers and found even the Navy’s vaunted $2.26 per gallon biofuel-blended fuel was still more expensive than the benchmark price. Conventional fuel costs around $500 per metric ton, but the Mason’s biofuel blend cost $675 per metric ton.
“The failure of the biofuel price to become competitive even after more than a decade of mandates and subsidies is why the blending fractions are falling instead of rising,” Kiefer told the paper. “This is an inescapable consequence of the low EROI [energy return on investment] of biofuel and its critical dependence upon fossil fuels.”
The Obama administration has touted the “Green Fleet” as a model for how the military can become less reliant on oil, but the fleet’s 2012 exercise was heavily criticized for the high cost of its fuel.
The biofuels used in a Navy’s Green Fleet demonstration in 2012 ran at about $27 per gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuels at the time.
The Green Fleet officially deployed in January 2016, but the fleet is running on diesel that’s blended with 10 percent biofuels, mostly from beef tallow. The Obama administration originally wanted a 50-50 ratio of biofuel to diesel.
Kiefer added using biofuel from beef tallow and palm oil is bad for the environment.
“The Navy has also regressed in its chosen feedstock, from advanced algae in 2012, to beef fat earlier this year, now to palm oil, a first-generation biofuel,” Kiefer said. “Palm oil biodiesel is recognized by the bulk of Europe and by informed environmentalists everywhere as the absolute worst biofuel, as it triples GHG emissions over fossil fuels.”
“This is because of massive land use change impacts and environmental damage including peat land draining and deforestation and destruction of natural biomes and displacement of food crops,” he said.
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