The Royal Australian Navy has confirmed plans to make all of its ships and aircraft biofuel-capable within six years, bringing it in-line with the US navy, which has well established plans to convert its own fleet by 2020.
Under an agreement with the US first tabled two years ago, Australia will have access to the technology being developed by the US to enable its massive naval fleet to run on alternative fuels by the end of the decade.
As we wrote back then, the US Navy has been working hard to fast track the development of advanced biofuels, as part of its strategy shore up energy security, which it considers to be one of America’s “prominent military vulnerabilities.”
By 2020, American navy ships and aircraft will be running on at least a 50-50 fuel blend and research is continuing to increase the proportion of green fuel in the mix as quickly as possible.
The RAN now plans to have up to 50 vessels and aircraft certified to use US navy-sourced alternative fuels by 2020, The Australian reports. In 2016, it will send a frigate and a helicopter running on biofuel to take part in the US navy’s “Great Green Fleet” demonstration.
A joint approach on fuels will be vital for military operations, due to plans for increased visits to Australian bases by US warships and aircraft.
Exactly when the navy’s ships and aircraft start using biofuels full-time in Australian waters will depend on the availability of sufficient high-quality fuel at an acceptable cost.
The navy has described Australia’s current ability to produce biofuels as “embryonic” – a status-quo that looks unlikely to improve any time soon, with the Abbott government’s surprise budget announcment of a biodiesel excise tax, five years earlier than expected.
“As the industry becomes established and alternative fuel blends’ costs approach parity, the RAN will seek to use blended alternative fuels,” RAN said.
In the case of the ships, the alternative fuel is a blend containing biodiesel. Most of the modifications to ships will be carried out during routine maintenance.
The 2012 co-operation agreement was signed by the RAN’s fleet commander, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett, who will become Chief of Navy in July.
Rear Admiral Barrett said technological advances would flow from the navy and the ADF to industry in Australia and the US.