back to article Royal Navy warships could run on sunflower oil - if fresh

A study by marine engineering experts has set out the likely effects of using biodiesel fuel in Royal Navy warships. As British warships are mostly powered by gas turbines derived from aircraft jet engines, the results are also interesting in the context of future biofuelled aviation and power generation. The current Jane's …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Steve Evans

    I'm frightened....

    What's the point in having a glorified fishing boat running on veggi oil if it means I've got nothing to cook my chips in?!

    Mines the one with the greasy marks on it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Green issues for the Navy? Surely that should be Battleship Grey issues?

    The big question is how can we make this Thermonuclear Warhead more Eco friendly. Perhaps by coating it in some water based paint? Can we make this fuel air cluster bomb depth charge doohickey from recycled copies of the Guardian in some kind of lethal papier mache format?

    Let's make War more carbon neutral shall we? Sure we'll kill people but let's not annoy them much first eh? Blow bits of the planet up but save the rest?

    Paris - because when the chips are down you can just put your head in between and you can't hear the Greenie Weenies bleating.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better than Royal Navy warships running on...


    (No "Joke" icon, because it's no laughing matter.)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ethanol, Rice and bacteria.

    The International Rice Research Institute don't actually consider bio fuels much of a factor in the sudden rises in the price of rice.

    Apparently government stocks have been falling since 2000.

    Bacteria are a problem in regular diesel as well, you can buy biocide for it:-

  5. Richard Wharram

    Chips ?

    Who cooks chips in veg oil ? Chips must be cooked in beef dripping or they somply aren't chips.

    Until they propose running warships on dripping I'm not worried.

  6. John Macintyre

    two faced?

    Has anyone seen the pollution one of those tanks makes just driving down the road? I'm sure each tank causes more pollution in a week of use then this ship would in a month.

    Bring on an increase in the world food crisis

  7. Spleen

    AC 12:34 has given me an idea

    "Murder offsets". You know how it's alright to pollute so long as you buy enough carbon offsets to pay someone to plant enough trees to offset the damage? How about this: if you're conducting a war and have killed 1,000 people, buy 1,000 murder offsets from me and I'll impregnate 1,010 women, thus offsetting the deaths through the creation of new lives. (The extra 10 is to compensate for the current UK rates of miscarriage and infant mortality. See, less reputable murder offset firms wouldn't think of that.)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hardly an innovation

    the Royal Navy running on palm oil.

  9. Perpetual Cyclist

    Once the rock oil runs out...

    Now we are in the days of peak oil, I can see future navies (and armies and air fleets) fighting to the death over the last rape seed fields of the Ukraine as the starving millions are kept at bayonet point.

  10. ImaGnuber

    Easier Eco-Friendly Solution

    Bring back oars. Lots and lots of oars. Oars could be made from recycled something.

    Oar-machines could be made from prisoners and fueled by nothing more than hardtack and a daily shot of rum.

    Whips and drums should be made from something that won't upset PETA.

  11. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    I would only worry

    if they started using virgin olive oil (given the armed forces' penchant for things expensive).

    That would seriously hit my cookery!

    - mines the one with the chef's hat in the pocket

  12. Tim

    @ AC, re Green issues

    IIRC, some years ago the US changed the coolant in their ICBMs to something CFC-free, so in the event of a global nuclear war there wouldn't be such an impact to the ozone layer.

    Strange but true (unless I fell for a hoax...)

  13. RMartin


    Uranium is the only proper fuel for a warship. Modern reactors are highly efficient and give off no CO, and can be decommissioned as a complete sealed unit.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Until they propose running warships on dripping I'm not worried.

    Bio-diesel can be made from animal fats.

    > the starving millions are kept at bayonet point.

    No need, chuck them in the vat too.

  15. Mark
    Thumb Down

    5% speed reduction? 13% endurance penalty

    This may seem a little silly but of all the vehicles to run on bio-diesel I think warships might be my last choice. Do you really want to have to fill your ship up 20% more often because the fuel doesn't go as far and you have to burn more of it to go at the same speed? Doesn't necessarily seem like such a good plan to me given the problems with logistics in a combat ship!

    I don't even want to comment on the 5% speed reduction. Captain to crew "I'm sorry gentlemen we won't be able to out run the oncoming fleet because we are running on plants and they are using real fuel...". To be honest in warships you want to be able to go as fast as possible sometimes, so cutting 5% off top speed might be a slight problem.

  16. Matt


    I've noticed that El-Reg seems to have an obsession with this being derived from corn.

    From what I read this is mostly an American solution with European solutions using things like sugar cane.

    As other have commented it's a bit ironic seeing what the warships are setting out to do. If CO2 is really an issue perhaps we could withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. This should enable the rest of us to carry on consuming at present levels and still cut our CO2 emissions!

  17. Dave
    Thumb Up


    All hail the Weizmann Organism:


    P.S. Mine's the one with the green stuff crawling out of the pockets.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Don't give they warmongers ideas... if you kill a few thousand aspirant third-worlders, just think of the carbon footprints you've erased...

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Carbon Footprint

    What seems to be neglected from the carbon output effects or war situations is that all those people targetted by the nasty carbon emitting warships/planes/tanks will (if they do their jobs right) not be themselves emitting carbon for much longer. Also they won't be needing the food that we just turned into fuel. All in all it's quite an elegant solution really.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    green warships now.. eco friendly bombs?

    A bomb that would kill all human ( to quote bender) and plant a couple of trees... variety depending on what you bomb (Serbia, Iran, Iraq, Siria, Northo Korea...) you know eco system balance should be kept so variety of plant is very important.

    As for uranium... what happens in the event that the ship does get hit and sunk? Or someone forbid that never happens to the Royal Navy?

  21. Peter

    It's not about being green

    I can't believe the military really cares much about the environment. They continue to research weapons which are environment-unfriendly (depleted uranium, lead, bio/chemical, etc). The environment isn't their concern, it's efficiency and efficacy.

    Their interest in alternatives is fueled (ha!) more by driving down costs and reducing dependency on other countries, something the wee little soldiers have always been trying to improve.

  22. Mark Roome

    And we have warships why?

    That is all!

  23. Dave Bell


    Biodiesel had been around for a long time. though the proper stuff is converted from vegetable oil by some chemical treatment. If you don't do this it can gel and clog the pipes and pumps in cold weather.

    (And there are also different grades of conventional diesel for summer and winter.)

    Of course, the RN and USN have warships in commission which have a low mobility-derived carbon-footprint.

  24. Arnold Lieberman

    Re: Greenwar

    "aspirant third-worlders". Would these be the ones blowing themselves up with bomb vests or the ones being blown up by other "aspirant third-worlders" because they don't share the same sectarian interests? I guess "aspirant" can include going to heaven, for those of a less materialistic nature...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    not green...

    As Peter pointed out, the Services generally are not trying to be green. They're trying to reduce our dependency upon fossil fuels - which tend to be located deep under unfriendly, or potentially unfriendly, host countries. Who put our oil there anyway?!

    Paris because she likes to be covered in cooking oil too...

  26. Brian
    Paris Hilton

    Best Tradition of The British Navy

    Damn the wogs!!! If those ignorant savages can't grow their own food why should we care! Use the crops to fuel the man o' war!

    Why Paris? Cause she doesn't care if Africa starves as long as she can drive drunk.

  27. Mark

    Eco bombs?

    Wouldn't these be made from fertilisers?


  28. Mark

    Anyone played Harpoon?

    I remember one of the notes from the developers for Harpoon2 (nerfed the game by making it too realistic, whilst not giving you 8 years of naval warfare training...) about one of the ships they modelled (Arleigh Burke? maybe). The engine would take any fuel and the simulation followed that: the ship went through its' diesel and the aerofuel for the helos. Then took everything from the refulers.

    Turbines are a better engine than variable ICE's like you have in cars anyway. It's just hard to make them small yet keep the efficiency.

  29. Mark

    Re: 5% speed reduction? 13% endurance penalty

    Not an engineer, but since most of the reason for slow ships is drag, and that drag goes up rapidly with speed, isn't the 5% slower speed more efficient?

    And if you can use algae to produce effective fuel, your refueller can have fresh nutrient-rich (well...) ocean water taken from that wet stuff it's rolling through. A combined refueller, refinery and green-food production platform...

  30. easyk

    green bomb

    maybe we could attach ecosystem appropriate seed packets to all the bombs? Surely the high exploseive will take care of the tilling and seed spreading.

  31. Solomon Grundy

    Peak Oil

    I do decree that there will be no more mention of peak oil on this site. The earth has plenty to go around - oil companies are not producing as much in order to increase shareholder value:

    After you read the article you should do some research and you'll see that all the oil companies are doing this. The only thing that's peaking about oil is the price of petro derived fuels.

  32. Mike Moyle

    It's just not fair...!

    "However, useable biodiesel can also be made from the jatropha plant, which can grow in deserts where nothing much else will."

    ...and who owns most of the deserts...?

    OPEC wins, again!

  33. ImaGnuber


    I said it and I'll keep on saying it - Oars. Prisoners. Hardtack. Rum.

    Someday you'll realise my genius... and start making excuses. Everything from "I never heard that." to "You don't know what those times were like."

    Oars. Prisoners. Hardtack. Rum.

  34. Caoilte

    Re: Peak Oil

    Whilst there's plenty more oil, there's not enough easily accessible oil to keep supply growing faster than present demand (at least at recent historical prices).

    ERGO Exxon physically and economically can't grow it's oil supply rate fast enough to keep up with demand.

    Soon the price will have spiked far enough to make less accessible sources of oil economically viable, but that is exactly what peak oil is about.

    It's not a swindle by Exxon and other oil companies part of some sinister cabal, it's simply fundamental market economics too complex for your simple little mind to grasp.

  35. Anonymous Coward


    Ethanol can successfully be made on industrial scale using algae farmed in sea water. The required production technologies are well known and have been used in specialized manufacturing facilities for more than 20 years. The only reason why ethanol currently is being made using crops is purely political (US farming subsidies etc). When using algae as raw material it also is more environmentally friendly as the algae used in production are extremely good at taking care of greenhouse gases when they are growing.

  36. Andy Bright


    Wind Power FTW. Ahoy Mate, shivver me timbers, hoist our colours and man the rigging.. (queue Pugwash theme tune to be played on full blast on all HMS warships).

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not only can the algae be grown in environments were other crops can't be grown (where it actually prefers to be grown) one of the things it likes is the animal waste that causes its wild cousins to foul the waterways from other agribusiness.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kicking the salty dog some more

    Totally hilarious. "Green" warships? They used to have red gun-decks, but then the Berlin wall fell down. Perhaps we now at last know the real reason for invading Iraq - a big allotment to grow veggies for the Navy (sod the Vitamin C tho). Oil out of the ground? icky, wrong colour.

    "Buckingham says that warships of the future would do well to keep a stock of microbe-killing biocide preservatives and other handy chemicals on board"

    What, you mean they don't!? There's no point losing yer Jack Tars to clap, pox or other exotic diseases from the ship's monkey before they've broken out the cordite. I thought the Navy always knew that. Sorry, Berlin wall again.

    And now time to splice me a mainbrace before breakfast, hearties.

  39. Ishkandar

    Re. - Ethanol, Rice and bacteria.

    How can you trust an organisation like the International Rice Research Institute that is HQed in the Philippines who, just happens, to be the worlds largest importer of rice despite having massive acreages under rice ?? OTOH, the Thais have been quietly exporting masses of rice for centuries to just about everyone !!

    @Andy Bright - Horatio Hornblower, you are not !! :-)

    @ImaGnuber - Prisoners = Landlubbers !! Not the best kind in open seas. Galleys and Gallases are shore-hugging ships that will wallow, at best, or sink, at worse, in the rough open seas !! That's why the Spaniards used tiny ships going to the Americas despite owning a large fleet of galleys and gallases in the Med. !! Furthermore, prisoners+rum = mutiny by drunken louts !! Water and hardtack, now, that's a different kettle of fish !! Add in a good dose of cat-o-nine-tails and you may get some work out of those scum !! :-)

  40. Charles Manning

    @Mr Grundy

    They're still producing just as much oil. Nobody is actually going thirsty for the stuff even though demand is increasing.

    All they've done is drive up prices by threatening to cut supply. This forces oil traders to buy up oil futures at inflated prices (to ensure their supply). Once the oil traders have paid high prices they must pass these costs on to their customers.

    Of course some large companies (Shell, BP, etc) produce much of the oil that they refine. They are not really buying the oil at inflated prices (where they are buying from themselves) but pass the stuff on to customers at the high-oil prices, the argument being that if the end customer did not buy it they could sell the oil on the open commodity market and make more money.

  41. shay mclachlan

    How tacky

    Sunflower Oil is so tacky and last year. A classy navy would be running its ships on Provencal truffle flavoured oil made from hand picked olives grown on west facing slopes as an absolute minimum. Sunflower.........ugh, they'll be using rapeseed oil next.

  42. heystoopid


    @charles forgotten much about how ENRON distorted the trading prices of Electricity Supplies by doing a combination of illegal insider trading bidding up against themselves in a round robin affair and sending false mixed messages to the Generating Company selling their surplus daily power output above the locals needs demand will be on such a day time and for such a duration ! This allowed the the Power Generators to shut down sets for the usual maintenance needed to keep the plant in good order . They had realized that due to a combination of factors the then greedy and rich Pacific Gas and Electric in California was heavily dependent on the buying external power low and selling high to the locals for a critical percentage of both peak and off peak power and could be taken down in a simple ponzi market scam which required a lot of money they never had before or during the duration of the scam either but had the best creative lying accountants money could buy though to fool the SEC , the shareholders and fake books for the non existent company pension fund too !

    If you just look below the surface the current Oil Market is suffering from a very similar artificial ENRON Ponzi type scam with a few select players playing very dirty pool as China will become the major player and dwarf even the reformed sisters(Standard Oil) in size and political power to dictate all terms and the fact that Iranians are now using Euro's instead of dollars whose value now decline by the day and if a few more side show producers join up with them it will be all over and the scheme will come down like a house built on a pack of cards on a quicksand foundations !

    Bumpy road ahead with lots of very deep almost bottomless pot holes !

  43. robert jeffery

    bio fuels on navy warships

    would running the royal navy warships on good old nuclear power like our submarines not be more environmentally friendly. lets face it when did the royal navy ever have a nuclear accident?

  44. Jeff Dray

    The Andrew Goes Green?

    I shudder to think how many acres of farmland it would take to fuel one battleship for one trip. These guys buy fuel by the ton, A trip through any rural area of England at the moment will reveal how much of our farmland is under oil seed rape, which makes me worry about how much will be left for growing food.

    From a conservation point of view we do have to explore these alternative energy supplies. Maybe the Andrew (Royal Navy) might consider hoisting a sail or two when the wind is in the right direction? we could coat them with photo-voltaic cells and harness a bit of the sun as well.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    What we need

    is Soylent Diesel.

    A real win-win for carbon emissions!

  46. Charles Smith

    This is no big deal

    The last figures I saw put the number of active UK Navy vessels down to 28 ships. In the overall scheme of things this is likely to have a tiny impact.

    Though the vision of all of those Navy Admirals (more than the number of active ships) queuing up at their local Tesco's to buy bottles of Corn Oil is quite appealing.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ishkandar : Re. - Ethanol, Rice and bacteria.

    >How can you trust an organisation like the International Rice Research

    >Institute that is HQed in the Philippines

    If you look at the board of trustees there are only three Phillipinos on the board.

    I agree that they obviously have a significant self interest in promoting research into rice. But I don't see why they would be denying bio-fuel as a problem.

    In fact a link to bio-fuel may improve their chances of research dosh.

    @Peak Oil

    Newer reserves are often deeper or more challenging to extract thus can only be done with a higher oil price. The North Sea was one example the oil shocks of the 70's were what made such deep drilling viable. Yes, there's plenty of oil, but it'll cost you.

    Bio-fuel even in partial mixes will create an alternative supply and reduce the effectiveness of the OPEC cartel. Since it'll be produced outside their control.

    @Green Warships

    This isn't about greenness, it's because if the oil supply is threatened then we need another way to run warships.

    Security of supply is easily the strongest argument for bio-fuels.

  48. steogede


    >> Uranium is the only proper fuel for a warship. Modern reactors are highly efficient

    >> and give off no CO, and can be decommissioned as a complete sealed unit.

    You're probably being sarcastic and I am too dim to notice it but - nuclear power combined with big targets for torpedos? I know we have had nuclear subs for a long time, but the idea of nuclear battle ships worries me more (don't know why).

  49. Mark
    IT Angle

    @Re: 5% speed reduction? 13% endurance penalty

    Indeed 5% lower speed is more efficient, but warships wouldn't reduce speed, they would just burn more fuel to stay at the same speed. In any case, you would get the same "benefits" using current fuel and reducing the speed by 5%...

    Anyway the problem is less about the drag and more about the fact that the fuel itself has less energy per unit of measure, so to get the same power output from the engine you have to burn more. Hence why you get the speed reduction (since the engine is limited in the amount of fuel that can be burnt at any time) and the endurance penalty (since you have the same size fuel tanks)

    PS It wasn't me who wrote the reply so why are there two Mark's????

  50. Perpetual Cyclist

    @peak oil

    If you bother to read up on this, you will find that we have been burning oil faster than we have been discovering new oil fields, world wide, for THIRTY YEARS. For the last two years we have been burning oil faster than we have been pumping out of the ground. Supply has been nearly static for three years now, but the price has gone from $20 to $126 in the last 8 years. Russia (world's largest producer - more than Saudi Arabia recently) has said its production has peaked.

    There are reports of billion barrel fields deep underwater almost every month, and they are all SPIN. None of that oil will be pumped until well down the global depletion curve. Tar sands have less energy per unit mass than a baked potato.

    The world is going into powerdown, whether you like it or not. Best to adapt ahead of the curve.

  51. RMartin


    >>>You're probably being sarcastic and I am too dim to notice it but - nuclear

    >>> power combined with big targets for torpedos? I know we have had nuclear

    >>> subs for a long time, but the idea of nuclear battle ships worries me more

    >>>(don't know why).

    I make no comment on your dimness or otherwise, but no sarcasm was intended.

    Nuclear powered warships have been commonplace in many navies for decades with an extremely high safety record. Battleship reactors are very small compared to commercial power plants, and use much less fissile material, typically a few kilos. They are also - understandably - very robustly made. The US Navy PWR reactor (which is present on 40% of the US frontline Navy) for example is designed to survive combat conditions without release of radioactive material.

    Due to cost/power requirement ratios, you would probably only want to put reactors on larger ships like aircraft carriers, and to damage one to the extent that the reactor is breached would probably itself take a nuclear explosion, in which case you would frankly have other things to worry about. If ever such a ship were to be sunk, then I can think of worse radiation shields than lots of seawater.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You'll probably be quite distressed to learn of nuclear torpedoes then...

    There are nuclear powered aircraft carriers as well...

  53. Rob Davis
    Alert -peak oil and cuba

    Also consider bioterrorism - bacterial weapons used to rot the bio fuel reserves

  54. ImaGnuber


    Sorry to take so long* to reply to your analysis of my suggestion: You are obviously the person to take charge of powering the oars. Welcome aboard!

    *Was busy weaving sunflower stalks into oars. May as well cover all the opportunities.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like