By Nigel Pittaway
Sydney — The Royal Australian Navy will observe biofuel development undertaken by the U.S. Navy following the signing of an historic Statement of Co-operation aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz on July 19.
Following the agreement, signed by Australian Navy Chief Vice Adm. Ray Griggs and U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, an Australian Seahawk helicopter was refueled with a biofuel blend aboard Nimitz and subsequently made the first biofuel-powered flight by an Australian Navy helicopter.
The U.S. Navy has a requirement to meet half of its fuel needs from alternative sources by 2020 and is planning to sail a fleet across the Pacific to Australia sometime in 2016 as a demonstration of sustainable fuels use. The demonstration will commemorate the arrival of the Great White Fleet in Sydney harbor in 1907 and will then take on biofuels made in Australia for the return journey.
“All of us have a responsibility to be more environmentally aware. As things stand today, biofuel remains too costly to use across our fleet. However, this project could lead to a cheaper alternative fuel,” said Australian Navy Fleet Commander Rear Adm. Tim Barrett.
“We are making sure that we look to the future so that we can continue to operate with the U.S. as we do in company around the world,” he said.
Susan Pond, adjunct professor with the U.S. Studies Centre’s Dow Sustainability Program at the University of Sydney, said the agreement between the two countries is welcome.
“The U.S. Navy initiatives to find affordable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels should be encouraged. Alternatives include advanced biofuels. These are fuels that are produced from non-food biomass sources, interchangeable with petroleum in existing supply lines, ships, aircraft and all other vehicles, at price parity to petroleum, and have lower ‘ground to tailpipe’ greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
“Demand by customers such as the U.S. and Australian navies sends a strong signal to the emerging advanced biofuels industry as it continues along the trajectory toward production at commercial scale. In working with the U.S. Navy, the Australian Navy will ensure its interoperability with its U.S. counterpart,” she said. “It will also foster the development of a strong Australian advanced biofuels industry and the associated benefits of increased fuel security, regional development and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”