A scheduled seven-month deployment began Wednesday for three San Diego-based vessels, which became the first Navy ships to use an alternative fuel mix during regular operations.
The cruiser USS Mobile Bay, and destroyers Stockdale and William P. Lawrence are sailing as part of a carrier strike group led by the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, which is based in Bremerton, Washington.
The destroyer USS Chung-Hoon will join them at Pearl Harbor.
The Navy said the surface ships are being powered by a fuel mix that includes beef fat provided by farmers in the Midwest, purchased at a competitive price through a partnership between the Department of the Navy and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus dubbed the strike group the "Great Green Fleet," a nod to the "Great White Fleet," a showcase of U.S. naval power in the early 20th century under President Theodore Roosevelt.
"When it comes to power, my focus has been about one thing and one thing only — better warfighting," Mabus said. "The Great Green Fleet shows how we are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters, to go farther, stay longer and deliver more firepower. In short, to enable us to provide the global presence that is our mission."
“This is 2016. Our goal is to be at 50 percent by 2020. By doing this, this is a huge step. This is a huge victory," he added.
The Great Green Fleet is a follow up to a test deployment in 2012. That year, the Navy paid $26 a gallon for biodiesel. Mabus was quick to point out that the price has dropped to $2.05 a gallon.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Navy's use of renewable energy represents the ability to diversify its energy sources, and the nation's ability to take what would be "a waste product and create homegrown, clean, advanced biofuels" for transportation needs.
"Today's deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America," Vilsack said.
"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs that are connected to this particular industry," he added. "It helps stabilize the price of crops."
The fuel blend was produced by California-based AltAir Fuels, which mixed waste beef fat with traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. The fuel mix didn't require any modifications to the ships, according to the Navy.
The Mobile Bay is named for a Civil War naval battle. The Stockdale honors Vice Adm. James Stockdale, who won the Medal of Honor for leading prisoners of war during the Vietnam conflict. The William P. Lawrence is named for another vice admiral who was also a Vietnam POW, and later commander of the U.S. Naval Academy.