Maersk Teams with US Navy to Test Algae Biofuel

Maersk will test algae biofuel on container ship for U.S. NavyThe US military is set to invest billions in clean energy, and the Navy has just launched a new partnership with with Maersk, a leading player in the global shipping industry, to put renewable algae biofuel to the test. When two behemoths like this join together, it’s a significant breakthrough for the biofuel industry. If there are any remaining doubts that biofuel can compete with petroleum products on a massive scale, this new test should put them to rest. The only thing that might be a surprise is why the Navy, with its high tech, high performance fleet, would be interested in plain old container ships.

The U.S. Navy and Maersk

The Navy’s interest in container ships is actually quite simple, and it intersects with the interests of virtually all private sector companies that rely on the shipping industry. The Navy has to shuttle supplies all over the globe, and it relies on chartered container ships and tankers from companies like Maersk (with which it has a long-term relationship) to get the job done. However, the shipping industry is a significant and growing source of global warming pollution, and the Navy has emerged as a strong voice for global warming action. In this context, the Navy is exercising the kind of supply chain leverage that any private sector company with a sustainability plan would be expected to exert on its contractors.

A Big Test for Algae Biofuels

In the new test, Maersk has agreed to sail a 300-foot container ship 6,500 nautical miles from Germany to India on about 30 tons of biofuel. The ship is already outfitted with a separate, dedicated engine, fuel tanks and blenders for Maersk’s own biofuel initiative, so it can test a range of blends beyond the Navy’s 50-50 standard blend, ranging from 7 percent to 100 percent. The crew will also monitor the ship’s emissions and fuel efficiency.

The US Navy and Algae Biofuel

The partnership with Maersk is just one element in the Navy’s Green Strike Group initiative, in which the Navy plans to launch an entire group using non-petroleum fuels in time for the international Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise this summer, with the ultimate goal of launching an entire Green Fleet in 2016. Although the Navy will still rely heavily on nuclear powered ships for the Green Strike Group and the Green Fleet, the essential goal is to transition toward forms of energy that do not contribute to global warming pollution, and that can be produced within U.S. borders.

Maersk and Global Warming Emissions

Maersk has positioned itself as a sustainability leader in the shipping industry, and a this year the company launched a new line of energy efficient Triple-E class container ships, said to be the largest in the world.  Maersk anticipates that the ships’ new hull and bow design, combined with heat recovery systems and other energy-saving equipment, will cut their carbon emissions by half on the Asia-Europe trade lane. They also come with a cradle-to-grave “passport” that designates about 90 percent of their components as recyclable to build future ships.

Image: Maersk container ship, Attribution Some rights reserved by tyler_haglund.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

4 responses

  1. The Navy paid $430 a gallon for Solazyme algae diesel oil for its recent ship stunts and $149 a gallon for algae kerosene for its recent airplane stunts– fuels that normally cost the military less than $3 a gallon in bulk. I say “stunts” because that is what RAND said in its Jan 2011 study that said the US Military is wasting vast sums of money duplicating meaningless demonstrations that have already been done by industry for 55 different biofuel blends. The issue is not making the fuel, it’s making it economically. To see how we are doing, consider that Solazyme is receiving another $21 million in subsidies from DOE, so the real cost of the fuel is still far higher, and that Honeywell UOP was just awarded a DOE contract for $1.1M to produce a mere 100 gallons of fuel sometime in 2012–that is $11,000 a gallon. North America is already littered with failed ethanol biofuel enterprises that never delivered and closed up as soon as the subsidies dried up. America’s fanciful mandatory ethanol policies have driven up the world-wide price of food 250% and resulted in the United States actually IMPORTING biofuel to meet federal mandates. How insane to spread starvation in other countries by enticing their farmers to fuel crop production instead of food production (e.g., Brazil), and to trade U.S dependence on cheap imported petroleum for a dependence upon expensive imported ethanol and biodiesel. Is that the kind of “green” that Maersk wants to be associated with?

    1. We are giving the the oil companys over a billion dollars a day in subsidies so they can pay off most of the politians, so they can write energy policy so they can write,envirmental policy,so they can write defence policy, so we can give billions of dollars to general dynamics & other defence contractors so they can give f-16s to saudi arabia kuwait the united arab emerits amongst others, so that they can protect are forein oil. Not to metion the cost of the fuel the navy needs to protect the super tankers. Some people just dont get it. the cost of biofuels like algae is coming down everyday the cost of the mineral based fuel for super tankers & the navy ,keeps goiing up in blood & dollars. Its time to get off forein oil & kick the oil companys out of washington!


    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completed. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous! There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results!

    The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at universities for another 50 years?

    In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!

    A Concerned Taxpayer

  3. The previous writer talks of the solyndra scandal like $ 535 million dollars is a big deal, we gave the oil companys over one billion dollars today yesterday, the day before that & the day before that, we will give them a billion dollars tomorro,the day after that & so on. In 2008 we gave $ 450 billion to them what a shock the last year of Bush & Chenny mister halaburton ceo we gave them $ 450 billion dollars, the same year of the collapse. Also the previous writer fails to know that algae is not a dream its happening write now solazme is providing the navy 500 thousand gallons this year of fuel.

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