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Navy’s Plan To Go Green Is Falling Apart

The US Navy had a bold plan to redesign its fleet to operate on renewable energy, a plan that may be falling apart.

The U.S.S. Nimitz. Photo: Burt Lum

The U.S. Navy had a bold plan to redesign its fleet to operate on renewable energy, starting with an aircraft carrier strike group, the U.S.S. Nimitz.

With Iran once again threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway that serves as a bottleneck for the westbound transport of Middle Eastern oil, the Navy certainly has an interest in developing an oil-free way to power its fleet. (Though, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, the Iranian threat may have been circumvented by a recent Saudi Arabian pipeline.) Iran’s push is only the most recent example of a long history of Middle East conflicts.

But the Navy may be its own worst enemy in this mission. In an in-depth piece called “How the Navy’s Incompetence Sank the ‘Green Fleet‘, Noah Schactman describes the Navy’s dependence on an uncertain fuel source and the havoc fluctuations in the oil markets have wrecked on the military’s long-term financial planning. He says,

In the Great Green Fleet,  Mabus’ team couldn’t have chosen a more powerful symbol to showcase their alt-energy push. There are 12 operational, full-sized aircraft carriers in the world. One is French. The other 11 are American. And they do not travel alone. Accompanying each 100,000-ton behemoth is a “carrier strike group” of nine fighter-jet squadrons, a dozen helicopters, a guided missile cruiser, at least one destroyer, and an oiler. Once assembled, these groups are offensive powerhouses that dominate hotspots from the Libyan coast to the Taiwan Straits. On the geopolitical chessboard, they are the queens.

The symbol and the dream weren’t to last, however.

Support for the Great Green Fleet — and for Mabus’ entire energy agenda — has collapsed on Capitol Hill, where both Republicans and Democrats have voted to all but kill the Navy’s future biofuel purchases. In the halls of the Pentagon, the Navy’s efforts to create a biofuel market are greeted with open skepticism. Even inside the environmental community, there’s deep division over the wisdom of relying on biofuels.

Schactman reports that the “Great Green Fleet demonstration will go as as planned. The next move after that, however, is unclear.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

How to Choose What To Plant For Biofuel

A Little Independent Energy Experiment on the Prairie

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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