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Maersk Teams with US Navy to Test Algae Biofuel

The 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, Some rights reserved by tyler_haglund.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit 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.

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