Selfridge Airmen Aid in Alternative Fuels 'Revolution'

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Blue pick-up trucks and drab green generators have been at the forefront of a power revolution at Selfridge Air National Guard base.

Through a series of test projects, partnerships and other training projects, virtually every piece of ground equipment at Selfridge now operates or can be operated on some type of alternative fuel, rather than traditional gasoline or diesel fuel.

"We want to continue to be out in front," said Capt. Shaun Modock, transportation officer for the 127th Wing. "We are more than open to working with others on (research & development) and other projects."

In the last several years, the 127th Wing has been involved with a variety of test projects in the alternative fuels arena, including:

· The Fischer-Tropsch blended fuel demonstration, which concluded in July and tested a synthetic blend of kerosene fuel - called S-8 -- in a variety of ground vehicles and aerospace ground equipment, also known as AGE. The S-8 was often further blended with JP-8, the fuel currently used in most USAF aircraft, during the ground test at Selfridge.

· A test of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, in which about a dozen trucks were used by Selfridge security forces.

· A test of several vehicles powered by compressed natural gas, or CNG.

· A project in which several vehicles have been modified to run on E-85 gasoline, which blends 15 percent ethanol into regular gasoline.

· The use of low-sulfur diesel fuel on all diesel-operated equipment.

"I feel like I am really on the first wave of a new revolution in vehicle technology," said Technical Sgt. Jerry Byrdo, a vehicle maintenance specialist and alternative fuels noncommissioned officer in charge for the 127th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Approximately 40 Airmen at Selfridge have received training in a variety of alternative fuels technology - including some conducted at the base by a local college - and perhaps as many as 200 Airmen have used or driven in alternative fuel-powered vehicles or equipment, some probably without even realizing they had done so, said Master Sgt. Carlos Vettraino, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fuels shop at Selfridge, part of the 127th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

"One big advantage of serving as a test site and data collection center is that all of our mechanics have been exposed to all of this new technology," Modock said. "At one time, we were testing vehicles that were using similar technology to what will be on GM's new Chevy Volt. Particularly for our traditional Guard members, this is a nice addition to a resume. If they are looking for a job in the civilian sector, this gives them an edge."

Air Force Benefits

According to Vettraino, about 90 percent of the ground fleet equipment now in operation by the Air Force can be run by the Fischer-Tropsch blend, should the military decide to continue using the S-8 fuel.

"Generally, the Fischer-Tropsch was cleaner burning, the average miles per gallon was pretty much the same, but the cost is a little higher," Vettraino said.

Modock said with the Fischer-Tropsch research concluded locally, the Air Force and other agencies can use that data to decide if moving ahead with the blend is warranted or can use the data to add to other research projects as it continues to seek out alternative energy sources.

The Fischer-Tropsch test is one of several projects being used by the Air Force Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) to work toward that agency's two goals: to provide a bridge from an oil-based economy to a new energy economy; and to move technology out of the laboratories and into the hands of the nation's war fighters.

Information Collected

During the various projects, some of which were led by Army researchers working in conjunction with various Army commands at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren and others which were led by the Air Force APTO, data collected at Selfridge in the winter months was of particular interest to researchers, Modock said.

During the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle test, Modock said one issue was quickly discovered: the exhaust of a hydrogen fuel cell is pure water. That water froze on cold days, causing engines that could not be started. Modock said adding engine block heaters fixed that problem.

"That's a real-world issue that we quickly uncovered. That's the benefit of doing this type of testing," he said.

In the Fischer-Tropsch test, local Airmen discovered that after the S-8 blend was used in local vehicles, if regular JP-8 was used in the next fill up, a chemical reaction occurred which ate away the rubber seals inside the vehicle, causing fuel to leak.

"We learned that if we need to change fuels, we need to clean out the fuel system and replace the seals in advance," Vettraino said.

Vettraino said the CNG-powered vehicles worked well, but an issue there was the length of time it takes to refuel the vehicle.

The Wing continues to operate several pick-up trucks is powered by CNG, but it takes an entire night to re-fill the vehicle once the tank is empty.

"It's a good source of fuel, but the fueling time is the issue they need to work out with the CNG," Vettraino said.

Personnel Training

Byrdo said vehicle maintainers and related personnel are continuously learning about new alternative fuels technology.

"This is cutting edge," he said. "This is the way the Air Force and the whole auto industry are going."

Byrdo said he initially received some training in alternative fuels technology as a civilian employee of Ford Motor Company, while serving as a traditional member of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge. Later, he became a full-time technician with the Guard and continued to receive training as new test projects rolled into Selfridge.

As part of the various fuels testing projects, the 127th created a new partnership with Macomb Community College, in which the college provided several day-long training programs at the base in various advanced technologies. The college used the feedback from the Airmen who attended the training to fine-tune its own curriculum on the various emerging technologies.

"The college has been out here several times, working with us on a number of issues," Byrdo said. "We've brought in as many of our people as we could to get the training. We've done training on safety issues, on electric systems, on maintaining a hydrogen fuel cell. We're learning as we go."

Byrdo said the Air Force is increasingly providing training on alternative fuels technology during technical school training for new vehicle maintenance apprentices, but local training is imperative as the technology continues to evolve.

"Our maintainers are being exposed to so many new technologies, it really is an exciting time," Modock said.

Changes at Selfridge

Vettraino said through the remainder of 2010, most, if not all, of the 127th's fleet of R-11 refueling tanker trucks will be operating on the S-8 blend, which was provided to the Wing as part of the Fischer-Tropsch test. Modock said using that fuel will provide local savings to the Wing in fuel expenses. In addition, as part of the test, a 12,000-gallon fuel storage tank at Selfridge was upgraded, which provides a long-term benefit to the Wing.

Vettraino said he is also working through channels to arrange for an on-base fueling capability for E-85 gasoline. The base continues to use a small fleet of E-85 capable vehicles, but currently, they must be driven to a local off-base gas station to be refueled. The base also continues to utilize the CNG fueling station that was installed on base as part of that test.

"We have been working with a number of agencies on fuels tests for the past three or four years and want to continue that pattern," Modock said. "We will be open to working with all components of the DOD and Homeland Security to develop these types of partnerships."