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Pearl Harbor visit highlights USDA/Navy biofuel initiative

VilsackPearlHarborJH
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack dons a Pacific Biodiesel hat after visiting Pearl Harbor to see the Navy biodiesel-fueled tour boats that shuttle visitors to and from the USS Arizona Memorial. (The Hagstrom Report/Jerry Hagstrom)

By JERRY HAGSTROM

HONOLULU — U.S. Navy boats taking tourists to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor are powered by biodiesel, and if Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Navy officials are right, this is the beginning of the U.S. military’s shift from petroleum to biofuels.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
Vilsack visited here this week to see the environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art boats that since April 2009 have been powered by a blend of 20 percent biodiesel, and to highlight the memorandum of understanding that USDA and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed in January 2010 to encourage development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

By 2020, Vilsack said, the Navy wants at least 50 percent of its energy to come from renewables.

The military’s goal “is reminding us of the need for the country to think big,” he said, and will also “allow the bioeconomy to take hold” in rural America.

Building demand for renewables is one way the government can make up for the expiration of the biodiesel tax credit, Vilsack noted.

“By joining with partners like the U.S. Navy, USDA is supporting investments in innovative technologies to help our nation develop renewable energy to out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world,” Vilsack said at a news conference Tuesday after taking a boat trip.

As part of the Obama administration’s framework for reducing dependence on foreign oil, USDA and the Navy announced last month that the Defense Logistics Agency signed a contract to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuel, the single largest purchase of biofuel in government history, Vilsack noted.

The USDA also recently announced five major research projects aimed at developing biofuels.

The biodiesel used at Pearl Harbor is provided by Pacific Biodiesel, a Hawaii company that makes fuel from used cooking oil, builds biodiesel plants in other places, and does research on other renewable fuel projects using government grants.

The advancement of renewable energy is particularly important to Hawaii, Vilsack said, a state which relies on imported fossil fuels for more than 90 percent of its energy needs.

Using 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, Vilsack said.

Pacific Biodiesel, Inc.