By 2020, the Navy aims to meet half of its energy needs for ships and planes with renewable energy sources, requiring some 8 million barrels of biofuel.
"That represents a pretty formidable market," Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom, director of the Navy's Energy and Environmental Readiness Division told the Algae Biomass Summit in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic newspaper reports.
About 600 industry leaders from 27 countries participated in the annual conference this week, which focused on the potential for algae to meet environmental, economic and energy challenges.
Cullom said the sector, as it works to develop alternative fuels, can help reduce the military's reliance on foreign oil.
Cullom recounted how in 2008, as oil prices shot up, the Navy saw its annual fuel costs soar to $5.1 billion from $1.2 billion the previous year.
"That meant about $4 billion less of something else that you were not able to buy," he said.
Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a leading expert on the link between energy, climate change and international security, told the group of their significant role in national security.
"I am saying that we need you for our national security. The United States armed forces need this industry to succeed ... we need to recognize that the potential that algal biofuels have for the future is fantastic," said McGinn, a news release states.
Cullom acknowledged that he expects biofuels to remain costlier than traditional fossil fuels for some time.
Last September, the Defense Energy Support Center, which oversees procurement of biofuel for the Navy, paid $2.7 million for 40,000 gallons of camelina-based fuel. That came to about $67.50 per gallon, compared to the typical cost of about $2.94 per gallon for its standard fuel, JP-5.
In April, on Earth Day, the Navy conducted its first test flight of a F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet powered by alternative fuel, in this case half-camelina oil. Navy officials said the exercise, deemed a success, was intended to demonstrate the Navy's commitment to reducing its dependence on foreign oil as well as safeguarding the environment.
The Navy said it would continue to test the biofuel-powered Super Hornet over about 14 more flights, then move on to testing alternative fuels in the marine gas turbines that power many surface ships as well as engines of U.S. Marine Corps ground vehicles.