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U.S. Navy unveils its ‘great green fleet’ with some red-white-and-blue machismo

Logo on a Navy FA-18. (Photo by the USDA.)

What do you get when you mix animal fat, algae, and 10,000 pounds of steel? The least-popular Navy Blackhawk on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday, during its regular "Rim of the Pacific" exercise, the U.S. Navy showed off its "great green fleet," a number of ships and aircraft running solely on biofuel. As we discussed last week, a lot of Republicans haaaaaaaate the idea: ostensibly because biofuel costs more than oil, but really because anything that could possibly reduce the use of oil is a cardinal sin.

What do you say to that, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus?

As a Navy jet screamed by the Nimitz, Mabus stopped his speech and said, "You just heard biofuel."

You just heard biofuel, suckers! There's something tremendously amusing about the combination of Top Gun-style machismo and sensible environmental considerations. Picture a bulky, muscular Rambo-type, holding massive weapons in each hand, snarling into the camera: "Time to take out the compost."

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16-year-old scientist could turn Egypt’s plastic problem into a biofuel boom

Image courtesy of European Commission.

What have you done for your country lately? Sixteen-year-old Azza Abdel Hamid Falad has figured out a way to make Egypt $78 million worth of biofuel each year. The key: an inexpensive catalyst that will turn plastic into fuel.

Green Prophet explains:

The idea of breaking down plastic polymers into fuel feedstocks, the bulk raw material used for producing biofuel , is not a new idea. But Faiad has found a high yield catalyst, aluminosilicate catalyst, that breaks down plastic waste producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which are then converted into ethanol to use as biofuel.

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Ethanol: Beloved by farmers, detested by Big Oil, endlessly debated by Congress

Fetal ethanol.

In 2007, Congress finalized a new policy mandating the integration of renewable source fuels into America's gasoline. In other words, biofuels -- gasoline substitutes/additives that could be used by existing vehicles but that were both renewable and resulted in less harmful emissions. Here's the EPA's overview of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), as it's known.

This morning (right now, in fact), the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power is holding a hearing [PDF] that is focused on "the challenges and opportunities facing alternative transportation fuels and vehicles." A core topic of discussion/argument/fury is whether or not the amount of ethanol that's allowed in our gasoline should be increased from 10 to 15 percent -- a change from an E10 standard to E15. (Last month, the EPA signed off on the use of E15 at American gas stations.)

Let's take a quick detour to talk about corn-derived ethanol use in gasoline. In summary: It is not ideal. This explainer from Friends of the Earth [PDF] provides a good overview of the arguments against the RFS. Granted, it's much easier to plant more corn than it is to recreate dinosaurs, kill them, wait a few million years, and then siphon the oil from their transformed carcasses. Much easier. But the use of corn as a biofuel stock has ancillary impacts on food prices that other biofuels -- many of which are still in development -- might not. (There's also a huge debate brewing over a mandate that the military use biofuels, but that's a topic for another day.)

Read more: Biofuel, Politics

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Antarctic moss eats 8,000-year-old penguin poop

Earlier this year, a slightly horrifying factoid made its way around the internet: Penguins poop so much that piles of their poop can be seen from space. But take heart, people who don’t like thinking about mountains of bird guano: It turns out that today's penguin dung heap could be tomorrow's source of nutrition for beautiful, fuzzy moss.

A team of Australian researchers were looking into the source of nutrients for these Antarctic plants, the BBC explains, and had narrowed it down to "nitrogen that's gone through algae, krill and fish." That food chain leads to seabirds -- penguins -- but the researchers were puzzled:

Since no penguins live on the elevated lakeside site in East Antarctica, the researchers had to work out where the mysterious seabird poo came from.

They realized that their moss beds were growing on the site of an ancient penguin colony.

"Between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago, on the site where the moss is now growing, there used to be [Adelie] penguins," said Prof Robinson.

Read more: Animals, Biofuel

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Here’s a fuel cell that runs on brain juice

Image by Rapoport et al., meninges and vascular anatomy courtesy of the Central Nervous System Visual Perspectives Project, Karolinska Institute, and Stanford University.

Whatever, Google Glasses; I'm holding out for the Google brain implant. And that just got a little more plausible, thanks to new technology for fuel cells that run off of blood sugar. In theory, if you popped one of these babies in your brain, it could get all its power from your own cerebrospinal fluid (the stuff that cushions your brain inside your skull).

Read more: Biofuel, Cleantech

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Thieves steal grease; slip away

The modern Dillinger's main target. (Photo by roadsidepictures.)

From The Atlantic Cities: a new rash of grease heists.

The latest report of grease theft comes from Quincy, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. In a down and dirty story, WBZ News Radio reports that two men made a big score off of the stored grease behind Cathay Pacific Restaurant. (Google review: "i thought the food was excellent, and very reasonably priced for the quality and portion sizes.... and no, i didn't see any 'hookers or drug dealers' in the parking lot.") They loaded up nearly $500 in fetid lipids before pulling out; a baffled detective told the radio station that this was a "new type of crime to us."

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Wisconsin hospital is powered by beer and cheese

Gundersen Lutheran Hospital, in La Crosse, Wis., aims to be energy independent by 2014. Hospitals use a ton of energy, so that's a tough goal to meet. But Gundersen is getting there by piggybacking on Wisconsin’s best-known industries: beer and cheese.

Beer and cheese, while delicious, both slough off a lot of gas while they're being made. (Not to mention after they’re consumed.) The hospital system has been sourcing biogas from a local brewery and from a dairy farm that makes mascarpone and fresh mozzarella cheese. And recently the system started getting gas from a La Crosse landfill, as well.

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The answer to our fuel woes might be monster sweet potatoes

Corn ethanol is a good idea in theory -- what's more renewable than a fuel source you plant and harvest every year? But corn is such an inefficient energy source that if we wanted to meet our biofuel goals with corn ethanol alone, they'd have to shoulder out every other crop. You know what yields more ethanol per acre than corn, though? Sweet potatoes. And you know what yields more ethanol per acre than sweet potatoes? GIANT MOTHERFUCKING SWEET POTATOES OF DOOM.

Read more: Biofuel

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Modern-day DeLorean? Airplane runs on trash

Photo by Paul O'Donnell.

One man's trash is another man's airplane fuel.

Adventure-seeker Andy Pag aims to obtain funding and become the first person to fly a trash-fueled plane from one end of the U.K. to the other. His aircraft, a microlight plane, will be powered by gasoline made from un-recyclable plastics like bags and packaging.

The fuel is made by a British company using Fischer–Tropsch synthesis--a process of making synthetic fuel that dates back to before WWII. Pag says the fuel is worth highlighting because it produces limited CO2, and reduces the volume of plastics that otherwise would go to landfills.

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Your new offshore energy source: Floating algae farms

Forget offshore oil drilling. NASA's working on a project that would generate clean, renewable offshore energy, by growing algae in floating plastic bags.

These floating algae farms would take in wastewater from treatment plants. For algae, wastewater is like the nectar of the gods: The ammonia and phosphates act as a fertilizer. So the algae would float happily contained in the baggies, getting fat with lipid oil, and cleaning up the wastewater in the process. Eventually, the algae farmers would harvest the oil, recycle the plastic and start all over again.

Read more: Biofuel