Science and Technology News

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Beyond the microbes: 2nd LRS, 2nd CES work together

by Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

4/10/2014 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- With more than 760 government vehicles used on Barksdale, ground fuel is an important but often forgotten element to maintaining the Air Force mission.

Airmen with the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron and 2nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, who use teamwork to monitor and supply the fuel keeping Barksdale's vehicle fleet moving more than 1.8 million miles, recently discovered a possible contamination in a biodiesel tank.

"We work hand-in-hand with the 2nd LRS fuels management flight, also known as the Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants flight, to deliver fuel to the Barksdale vehicle fleet," said Bill Koff, 2nd CES liquid fuels maintenance superintendent. "With this partnership, we are able to provide quality fuel used by almost every aircraft, government vehicle and pieces of ground equipment. POL has laboratory technicians who routinely check the quality of the fuel within the tanks. If they notice that something isn't right with the fuel due to water, contamination or fuel separation, they call us to assist in fuel tank repairs or cleaning."

This teamwork between squadrons led to an early identification of a contaminated 11,000 gallon biodiesel fuel tank used by more than 400 government vehicles and equipment.

"The lab notified us of possible excessive water levels in one of the biodiesel ground fuel tanks," said Koff. "This one tank in particular has been a repeat problem, so we investigated the issue further by pulling the sensor from the tank and vacuuming fuel from the bottom of the tank. What we found was a black sludge that shouldn't have been there."

With the quick reaction and teamwork of Air Force agencies, only about 1,100 gallons of fuel were affected.

"After we drained the fuel tank to a point below the pump pick-up, but above the sediment at the bottom, we pumped out the affected fuel and disposed of it," said Koff. "After that, we went into the tanks and used a high pressure washer to clean the walls and floor of the tank to remove all contaminates that we could. During this process, we also took samples for the labs to run tests."

The fuel tanks and stock are constantly tested and monitored by the 2nd LRS fuels management team, who use specialized equipment to determine the quality of fuel stored in the tanks.

"The sample we recovered from the tank was something we hadn't seen before," said Senior Master Sgt. David Laun, 2nd LRS fuels management superintendent. "We forwarded the sample to the Air Force Research Laboratory team at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio for a better analysis. They have the resources to determine what the contamination is and how we can combat it; not just here but at any base. They confirmed there were micro-organisms within the biodiesel."

Since this was a new type of contamination, specialists visited Barksdale to get an up-close view of the affected fuel.

"With the samples and the help of a team from the University of Oklahoma, we can understand where the organism came from and how to combat it in the future," said Dr. Wendy J. Goodson, AFRL research biologist.

These organisms aren't the typical things you would find moving around the world. They are tiny; so tiny in fact, they are about one micron in size, smaller than a red blood cell which is about 10 microns in size.

"Fuel is filtered before it comes from the pumps," said Koff. "But, it's only filtered down to the standard 10 microns. Since this was so much smaller, there could be a possibility it could cause problems with the vehicle fleet."

These microbes occur in all fuel systems, but the "bio" content of biodiesel can be the perfect environment for microbial growth.

"Fungal and bacterial blooms can happen relatively quickly after changes in air temperatures and humidity," said Goodson. "The Air Force is just getting up to speed on how to deal with biodiesel contamination. Barksdale is being very proactive about monitoring and mitigating the problem. Their willingness to team with us on this kind of study is critical to our ability to help solve future problems."

With team work between Barksdale, AFRL, University of Oklahoma and the Air Force Petroleum Agency, fuel supply contaminants can be battled with minimal impact to vehicle fleets.

"The data generated will help both CE and LRS make decisions locally, but ultimately data generated by AFRL will be directed to the AFPA so they can influence fuel tank maintenance strategies for the Air Force," said Goodson.

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