SecNav: Cut half of oil use by 2020

(MILITARY TIMES)   Navy Department leaders issued a set of ambitious new plans to boost the Navy and Marine Corps’ energy efficiency Wednesday, including the goal of fielding a completely sustainable carrier strike group dubbed “the Great Green Fleet.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus cited the example of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, which announced the arrival of American sea power by circling the globe in 1907, and said a new focus on energy would augur just as big a turning point for the service.

Mabus wants the Navy to demonstrate that it can sail a “Great Green Fleet” by 2012 and deploy it by 2016, he said, to prove the U.S. can exert influence at sea without the need for foreign oil. He compared the impact of an energy-friendly fleet of tomorrow with the Navy’s switch from sails to coal, and then from coal to oil.

The so-called green fleet’s carrier and submarines, already in the fleet, would be nuclear powered. Its surface escorts would either have hybrid power plants — as the Navy built aboard the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, and plans to test aboard Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — or use alternative bio-fuel in their original engine rooms. And the aircraft in the strike group, including fighter jets and helicopters, also would burn only alternative fuel, Mabus said.

(Although it would show the Navy could function without imported oil, the fleet wouldn’t be “green” as many environmental groups use the term: Its nuclear ships still would eventually produce radioactive waste, and its conventional ships and aircraft still would produce greenhouse gas emissions.)

Navy engineers at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Tuesday demonstrated that a jet engine can run at full afterburner on bio-fuel, and officials want to fly an F/A-18 Hornet on bio-fuel next year, a jet Navy has nicknamed the “Green Hornet.”

Mabus’ other goals:

• Mandate that energy usage, efficiency, life-cycle costs and other such factors be part of the Navy’s decision when acquiring new equipment or systems, as well as vendors’ efficiency or energy policies.

• Cut petroleum use by half in the Navy’s fleet of commercial vehicles by 2015, by phasing in new hybrid trucks to replace older ones.

• Get half the power at Navy shore installations from alternative energy sources — including wind or solar — by 2020, and where possible, supply energy back to the grid, as the Navy does today at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said Wednesday he wants Marine Corps bases in the U.S. to eventually buy no external power, and sell back excess power when possible.

• Reach the point that half the energy used throughout the Navy Department, including in ships, aircraft, vehicles and shore stations, comes from alternative fuel or alternative sources by 2020. Today that percentage is about 17 percent.

Mabus said he has been told that 40 percent by 2020 is a more realistic goal, and even that is difficult, but he said “the Navy and the Marines have never backed away from a challenge.”

“I’m not asking for the impossible,” he said.

Still, Mabus, Conway and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who spoke at a Navy Department energy summit outside Washington, all acknowledged the steep technical and financial hill the services must climb to reach their goals.

“We’re in the second semester of our sophomore year,” Conway said. “We’ve still got some hard lessons ahead.”

The Navy’s bid to field a hybrid Arleigh Burke-class warship, for example, is still in the very early stages. There was no estimate for what it would cost to field the “Great Green Fleet,” or to replace today’s conventional vehicles with hybrids. The plan assumes a significant leap in alternative fuels becoming cheap and sustainable. And although the Navy is putting a new focus on accounting for fuel and usage costs when it buys new gear, it will continue to operate its fuel-thirsty ships and aircraft, including its fleet of 55 littoral combat ships.

Mabus said there were no plans to change the design for LCS, which uses two gas turbines and two main diesel engines, and achieves its high sprint speed by burning fuel voraciously. That will continue, he said, but the fleet of the future will use alternative fuels, which will make the Navy independent of foreign oil.

Mabus acknowledged that today a gallon of corn ethanol takes as much or more energy to produce as it yields, which defeats his efficiency goals, but said he believes future bio-fuels, made from algae or other sources, could solve that problem.

Even though there were few hard numbers for the costs of the Navy’s new energy plans, it was clear some of the leaders’ ideas could involve many millions of dollars. For example, Roughead said the Navy is looking into back-fitting the Makin Island’s diesel, electric and gas-turbine hybrid propulsion system onto its older steam-powered big-deck amphibs, which would be a highly complex modification.

But Mabus said that if the Navy established itself as a leader in efficiency and energy-conscious innovation, it would attract the know-how — and just as important, the money — to meet its goals.

“Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world without the money to get them home,” Mabus said. “But he was confident that Congress would want the fleet back, so he knew the money would come. And it did. No one has ever gotten anything big done by being timid.”

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