Navy Sets Sights on Energy Efficiency & Biofuels

A new agreement between the U.S. Navy and the Department of Agriculture may offer a boost to developers of fuels derived from plants, and other greentech firms vying for military contracts. The two departments have agreed to work together — and with private partners — to “encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems,” as part of an effort to bring more alternative fuels into the Navy and Marine Corps’ energy supply, and generally support the Obama administration’s clean energy goals.

The Navy, which has delivered funding and partnerships to startups including Ocean Power Tech (for testing and an advanced version of the firm’s PowerBuoy) and Widetronix (for silicon-carbide based wafer tech used in electronic devices), pledged recently in a separate announcement to consider the energy efficiency and “energy footprint,” among other factors, when awarding contracts, and the department reiterated that plan Thursday.

Joining hands with the USDA this week, the Navy’s stated efforts to “reduce reliance on fossil fuels from volatile areas of the world” (and slash the number of dangerous trips required to transport fuel on the battlefield), now has a stronger biofuels component.

Under the new agreement, the departments say they will share “technical, program management and financial expertise,” noting several USDA initiatives focused on loans, grants and other support for biomass energy crop producers, businesses adopting energy efficiency improvements and developers of new types of feedstocks.

The prospect of more government funding has to come as welcome news for the struggling biofuels sector (see our biofuel deathwatch map). As Lux Research put it in the middle of last year, the industry “has plunged over a cliff amidst rancorous debate over its near-negligible carbon mitigation, competition for arable land, and poor economics.”

But as Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus suggested at the Pentagon yesterday, the military could be a major customer. During the signing ceremony for the new partnership, he noted that the military accounts for as much as 90 percent of energy used by the government, which in turn makes up 2 percent of the entire country’s energy use. As a result, he said, “Changing the Navy’s pattern of energy consumption and our sources of power, and working with Agriculture to support renewable energy and biofuel projects around the country, we can and we will have a broad and measureable impact on the national energy landscape.”

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy