Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center (NAVFAC ESC or NFESC)

The abbreviation may be a mouthful, but the NAVFAC ESC is one of the global leaders in bioenergy research and development. This only makes since given that the United States military consumed 144 million barrels of oil in 2004. That number can be put into perspective by considering that it is the same amount of daily energy consumption of the entire counties of Greece or Nigeria (separately).  The 2005 budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) included U.S. $8.5 billion for oil alone. The Navy uses roughly 1.26 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year.

These numbers make the U.S military the single largest consumer of oil in the United States, which is the largest consumer of oil in the world. By default, this makes the DoD the largest consumer of oil in the world. Bioenergy has both economic and strategic advantages for the military, which would rather not rely on imported oil from regions that are less than thrilled about U.S foreign policy. Thus, the DoD, through the NAVFAC ESC, is actively engaged in research into energy derived from biomass.

The ESC is headquartered in California and employees primarily civilians in research positions. Of the 533 employees at ESC, only 17 are military professionals, the other 516 are civilians. The facility focuses on engineering and implementation of solutions for problems U.S. Navy and military as a whole.

Research and Development

Though the ESC carries out research in a number of different areas, energy is one of the key focuses. The goal is to develop new technologies in any area of energy supply, distribution, or consumption. They look to achieve reliable and cost-effective renewable resources to replace petroleum products.

Most of the research into energy is carried out under the “Energy and Utilities Department.” This center specializes in the following areas related to energy acquisition, distribution, and consumption.

  • Energy and Water Program Management - This group evaluates the impacts of legislation and financial management for the program as a whole. They are responsible for determining where money will be spent.
  • Energy and Water Products - The budget for this division is roughly $100 million annually and they focus on increasing operating efficiency of the military. Projects have included a 3.8 MW wind farm at Guantanamo Bay Cuba and a 39 MW cogeneration plant in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • Technology Validation - This group makes sure that products that claim to save energy actually work. Though their work is focused on military applications, the research is highly useful to the public sector in that evaluates basic technical concepts and philosophies.
  • Thermal and Power System Engineering - Evaluates boiler, steam ,and diesel power plants, tests new technologies, and studies performance under various conditions.

Environmental Department (EV)

The EV provides engineering, scientific, and technology support in environmental compliance and restoration, pollution prevention, sustainability, and climate change. One of the major divisions under this section is the climate change initiative, which carries out research in sea level rise, carbon sequestration and power/heat generation. This is the group responsible for the bulk of naval research into alternative fuel vehicles.

Projects

One notable project was the 2010 successful test flight of an F/A-18 fighter jet, which was powered exclusively on a 50/50 blend of standard jet fuel and jet fuel derived from biomass, specifically camelina. An entire fleet of “green” aircraft is scheduled for deployment in 2016, though efforts to cut spending may hamper such efforts given the high costs of biofuels as a result of research and development requirements. Though biofuel is currently expensive, increases in economy of scale, in part helped by purchases from the DoD, will reduce costs. Additionally, each $1 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil increases the fuel budget of the DoD by $31 million, meaning biofuels are rapidly reaching parity with traditional fossil fuels.

Another project of note was the 2012 test run of the USS Ford, a frigate, under the power of Soladiesel HRD-76. Soladiesel is produced primarily from chicken fat and beef tallow. One of the benefits that the U.S. military can bring to biofuels is bulk purchasing, even when prices are high relative to fossil fuels. In doing this, the DoD helps to provided needed funds for scaling up production and thus reducing costs overall.