USDA, U.S. Navy working with sugar plantation owner Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar to research, develop crops capable of producing biofuels for jets, ships

NEW YORK , January 11, 2012 () – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack toured Pearl Harbor on a visit Tuesday meant to highlight the Obama administration's commitment to renewable energy.

Navy ferries partially powered by biofuel take tourists from a visitor's center across the harbor to the memorial above the USS Arizona battleship that sank in the Japanese bombing on Dec. 7, 1941. The six boats are capable of using entirely biofuel, but currently run on a 20 percent-biodiesel blend.

Vilsack's department and the Navy signed an agreement in 2010 to develop advanced biofuels, and one of their projects is on Maui. They are working with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar — the owner of Hawaii's last sugar plantation — to research and develop crops capable of fueling Navy fighter jets and ships.

The Navy aims to use biofuels for half of its fuel needs by 2020. To meet this goal, it's been pouring money into algae, sugar and other crops that could become alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Agriculture Department supports investments to help the U.S. develop renewable energy that will be more innovative and competitive than energy developed elsewhere around the world, Vilsack said.

"Advanced biofuels provide landowners, businesses and communities in Hawaii and throughout the country the opportunity to pursue new energy advancements that create jobs and build a stronger economy," he said in a statement.

This summer, the Navy plans to using a cooking oil and algae biofuel blend to power U.S. vessels and aircraft participating in the world's largest naval exercises. The Navy is spending $12 million to buy 425,000 gallons of biofuel to use in the Rim of the Pacific exercises off Hawaii.

President Barack Obama last year set an ambitious goal of reducing U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025. Obama said the U.S. would increase the use of biofuels and natural gas to reach that goal, as well as boost domestic oil production and make vehicles more energy efficient.

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