Navy’s Use of Biofuels Could Trigger Private-Sector Adoption

MOBILE, Ala. (Jan. 16, 2010) The new littoral combat ship, USS Independence (LCS 2) is pier side during her commissioning ceremony. Independence is the second of two littoral combat ships designed to operate in shallow water environments to counter threats in coastal regions. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst)
National Journal
Amy Harder
Aug. 15, 2013, 11:33 a.m.

The Navy’s use of ad­vanced bio­fuels could help spur private-sec­tor in­vest­ment, said Den­nis Mc­Ginn, Pres­id­ent Obama’s newly con­firmed as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of the Navy for en­ergy, in­stall­a­tions, and en­vir­on­ment.

“The private-sec­tor be­ne­fits are the mil­it­ary’s abil­ity to do some pretty good ana­lys­is, to man­age risk, and to in­tro­duce in­nov­at­ive ma­ter­i­als and in­nov­at­ive pro­cesses,” said Mc­Ginn, who was con­firmed by the Sen­ate earli­er this month be­fore the con­gres­sion­al re­cess. “It sig­ni­fic­antly lowers the bar­ri­er of entry to new in­dus­tries and new tech­no­lo­gies.”

From med­ic­al devices to space tech­no­logy, the Pentagon has of­ten been an in­cub­at­or for the private sec­tor. Mc­Ginn said he’s go­ing to work to make sure it’s the same in the re­new­able-en­ergy sphere, and es­pe­cially for bio­fuels.

“It can have a cata­lyt­ic ef­fect for large con­sumers of trans­port­a­tion,” said Mc­Ginn, who stepped down re­cently from his post as pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an Coun­cil on Re­new­able En­ergy when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion cour­ted him for this po­s­i­tion.

Navy Sec­ret­ary Ray Mabus, the Pentagon’s de facto ad­voc­ate for the mil­it­ary’s ad­op­tion of re­new­able en­ergy over oil, has set a goal of get­ting half of the Navy’s fuel from al­tern­at­ive sources by 2020 and sail­ing a “Green Fleet” that runs on nuc­le­ar power and bio­fuels.

Mc­Ginn, a re­tired vice ad­mir­al of 35 years, said he hopes to take the de­bate over this pro­gram, which Re­pub­lic­ans have cri­ti­cized for its cost as the Pentagon faces budget cuts, bey­ond sound bites.

“There have been a lot of sound bites at­trib­uted to vari­ous folks on both sides of the De­fense De­part­ment’s bio­fuels pro­gram,” Mc­Ginn said. “I’m hop­ing to take it bey­ond that to really some ob­ject­ive cost-be­ne­fit risk ana­lys­is.”

He said when do­ing that for the bio­fuels pro­gram, the cost will be com­pet­it­ive.

“The Navy is on re­cord say­ing that there are con­tracts out there to pro­duce bio­fuels that are cost-com­pet­it­ive with pet­ro­leum, and that is go­ing to be the big task that I’ll be work­ing on with the team,” Mc­Ginn said.

Al­though Obama has fo­cused on his cli­mate-change agenda lately — he’s vowed to reg­u­late green­house-gas emis­sions via ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion — Mc­Ginn said the driv­ing force be­hind the Navy’s green­ing ef­fort is not cli­mate change but mil­it­ary strategy.

“Ul­ti­mately, it’s to in­crease mil­it­ary ef­fect­ive­ness, com­bat ef­fect­ive­ness, and op­er­a­tion­al ef­fi­ciency of mil­it­ary forces,” Mc­Ginn said. “It’s all about the mis­sion. The oth­er be­ne­fits, wheth­er it’s re­lated to cli­mate or what have you, are ad­ded be­ne­fits.”

After Mc­Ginn’s de­par­ture from ACORE, the re­new­able-en­ergy group named board mem­ber Mi­chael Brow­er as act­ing CEO. “The only down­side of this change is I have to leave ACORE,” Mc­Ginn said with a laugh.

Brow­er said in an in­ter­view that he hopes the search com­mit­tee for a new CEO, which he is lead­ing, will find someone by year’s end.

“I’d hope this would be a great Christ­mas present to ACORE,” Brow­er said. “There are some really great people who are in­ter­ested. We are very proud and honored that they have ex­pressed an in­terest.”

He de­clined to say who has sur­faced as a can­did­ate thus far.

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