Navy’s largest biofuel test is a success

Using a remotely controlled ship, the U.S. Navy successfully completed its largest-scale demonstration of alternative fuels last week off the coast of California.

The service branch said its Self Defense Test Ship – the decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer Paul F. Foster, reconfigured to provide an unmanned test platform – made a 17-hour trek from San Diego to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme using a 50-50 blend of algae-derived, hydro-processed algal oil and a standard petroleum fuel.

The Navy has set a goal of deploying a “Great Green Fleet” powered entirely by alternative fuels by 2016, and of reaching 50 percent alternative energy use overall by 2020. 

The service recently tested alternative fuel in a yard patrol boat at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and in a landing craft utility off the Virginia coast.

According to the Associated Press, the algal oil used in the Self Defense Test Ship was produced by South San Francisco-based Solazyme, the same company that earlier this month helped United Airlines do the first biofuel-powered commercial airline flight in the United States.

“From our perspective as the ship’s operators, there was absolutely no difference, whatsoever, in the operation or performance of the ship,” said Mike Wolfe, Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division underway project officer. 

“The fuel burned just like the traditional fuel we get from the Navy and have been burning for years. We could not tell the difference. The biggest success is that a Navy ship with engines identical to those in commissioned warships operated successfully on an overnight transit with the alternative fuel without a glitch in anything. Operationally, it was absolutely a success.”

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling