Speaking in Honolulu with Pearl Harbor as a backdrop, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Tuesday emphasized the Obama Administration's commitment to renewable energy.
USDA is working closely with the U.S. Navy to promote the use of renewable fuels in its operations. In April 2009, the Pearl Harbor naval base was the first Hawaii military marine fleet to use biodiesel, replacing U.S. Navy-operated tour boats that shuttle visitors to and from the USS Arizona Memorial with five new boats capable of running on 100% biodiesel.
“They understand energy is critically important and want to create an awareness that we need to monitor our energy use on a regular basis,” he noted.
The boats are currently powered by a blend of 20% biodiesel. The fleet's goal is to eventually transition to using 100% biodiesel. The biodiesel is produced by Hawaii-based Pacific Biodiesel, Inc. which created one of the first biodiesel plants in the United States in 1996.
In January 2010, USDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to encourage development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.
Last summer, President Obama announced an investment in the private sector of up to $510 million during the next three years to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation.
Last month, USDA and the U.S. Navy announced that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuel, the single largest purchase of biofuel in government history. In addition, USDA recently announced five major research projects aimed at developing biofuels.
The advancement of renewable energy is particularly important to Hawaii, which currently relies on imported fossil fuels for over 90% of its energy needs, stated Vilsack. “Ongoing research and commitment to the development of renewable energy will help lessen this dependence and enable Hawaii to become a model for the production of drop-in fuels for automobiles, jets, tactical vehicles and electrical generators.”
Through the utilization of Hawaii-grown algae, eucalyptus, sweet sorghum, banana grass, jatropha and energy cane, drop-in biofuels can serve as direct replacements or supplements to existing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels, without any changes to existing fuel distribution networks or engines.
In response to a question regarding the expiration of bio fuel tax credits, Vilsack said, “We have to figure how to build demand. The Navy’s commitment to purchase 450,000 gallons of biofuel means we won’t have to rely on tax credits. They use a lot of fuel. When they get to 100% biofuels it will be a tremendous market.”
Vilsack said commercial airlines are also interested in this project as it will help reduce greenhouse gases.