The Pentagon paid Solazyme Inc $8.5 million in 2009 for 20,055 gallons of biofuel based on algae oil, or $424 a gallon.Personally, I like seeing the Secretary of the Navy out fighting for the Navy in major media outlets, I'm just not sure this Secretary of the Navy has always picked the right fights. The real problem here is that the mainstream media is going to go very soft if not outright praise Ray Mabus regarding his green effort, and the biofuels industry is so cash starved right now they will be very slow to criticize as well.
Solazyme's strategic advisers, according to its website, include T.J. Glauthier, who served on Obama's White House Transition team and dealt with energy issues, but also former CIA director R. James Woolsey, a conservative national security official.
For the Great Green Fleet demonstration, the Pentagon paid $12 million for 450,000 gallons of biofuel, nearly $27 a gallon. There were eight bidders for that contract, it said.
Republican lawmakers are pushing measures that would bar the Navy from spending funds on alternative fuels that are not priced competitively with petroleum and are accusing Mabus of failing to provide Congress with a full analysis of the cost and time it would take to create.
"They couldn't answer some of the very fundamental questions that you would want on that issue," said Randy Forbes, a Republican on the House Armed Services Committee who says studies show that biofuels would always be more expensive than petroleum.
Mabus rejects the criticism, saying that as production rises, costs will come down. He notes that prices have fallen dramatically over the past few years, even with the Navy buying only small test batches of alternative fuels.
"Of course it costs more," he told the climate conference. "It's a new technology. If we didn't pay a little bit more for new technologies, we'd still be using typewriters instead of computers. ... And the Navy would never have bought a nuclear submarine, which still costs four to five times more than a conventional submarine."
I believe praise of the Great Green Fleet is warranted, but all criticism of Ray Mabus is also well earned. There is no future with Solazyme for the US Navy, because the only thing Solazyme can do is provide biofuel at a high cost for testing purposes, and I am not sure the company will ever be able to do more than that. Their process for making biofuel is that they basically cook sugar in a big vat - in other words they are simply a giant test tube company for biofuel. How does a company that makes their biofuel in a giant laboratory ever keep costs down? These are questions that nobody ever asked Ray Mabus as he embarked on his biofuel crusade pouring millions of dollars into the big vats at Solazyme. Why is that problematic? Because the actual Navy investment in biofuel makers who actually grow biofuels is very small relative to the huge contracts the Navy has issued to Solazyme, and that unbalanced investment really does nearly nothing for the advancement of the biofuels industry.
Ultimately the story of the Great Green Fleet will be one of such limited value the story likely won't be told beyond Ray Mabus being in office, and if it is told it certainly won't be a best seller and will likely be part of a joke. Ray Mabus will have proven that the United States Navy can use biofuel instead of traditional fossil fuels, but because of how he did his investment the Navy will ultimately have contributed very little to the Green Energy movement in America other than giving it limited visibility, and usually that visibility came in the context of framing green energy as so expensive it looked like nothing more than enormous taxpayer waste. It is legitimately difficult to describe what the Navy has done with biofuels as progress because the scale to date has been so small, but relative to what the rest of government has done - the Navy is a big player in overall alternative energy, and should be proud of that.