This Wednesday, there surely will be tears, hugs and excitement as sailors begin another deployment to the world’s hotspots. On the surface, it will be a replay of a common occurrence in any Navy town when sailors go to sea, but in the ships’ gas tanks will be fuel made from renewable resources that has officials back at the Pentagon exuberant.
“Underway on beef-fat power” might not have the same ring as “Underway on nuclear power,” the historic message the Nautilus submarine beamed when it left the pier 61 years ago today. Nonetheless, the Navy is trumpeting the use of renewable biofuels as a game-changer.
In 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that the Navy and Marine Corps would get half of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020, and that the Navy would deploy an entire carrier strike group using biofuels by 2016.
Since then, every type of aircraft in the service’s hangars and every class of ship in the Naval Vessel Register has flown or gone to sea with biofuels made out of beef fat, municipal waste, palm oil, algae or camelina, a plant in the mustard family.
Critics may object to the higher cost, but for the Navy, it’s a national security issue. No military wants to be wholly dependent on foreign sources of fuel, and biofuels mean local production and a hedge against volatile oil prices.
For California, the military investment also means a guaranteed market for a nascent biofuel industry that can really use the help. Oil prices won’t stay low forever, so keeping our biofuel industry alive to step in when needed is important economically, environmentally, and for national security, too.