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 August 2006 Feature
DAVID PAMPLIN is a fuel chemist in the Product Technology and Standardization Division at the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Energy Support Center. For more than a decade, he has participated in the preparation of North American Treaty Organization standardization agreements that define fuels. Pamplin served as site chief for DESC’s Kaiserslautern Area Petroleum Lab in Germany from 1996 to 1999 and, in that capacity, was responsible for testing fuel destined for Air Force One. Prior to his government service, he worked in the refining industry for six years.

Clean Fuels Energize Defense Energy Support Center Diesel Standardization

What does an Army specialist at Fort Carson, Colo., have in common with a career chemist at the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), two former directors of the Army Petroleum Center, an Air Force major, and an Air Force colonel? All six were instrumental in bringing about the conversion of hundreds of Army and Air Force installations nationwide from the use of a government specification for automotive diesel fuel to the use of a non-government standard: ASTM D 975, Specification for Diesel Fuel Oils.

A Success Story

The cost-saving conversion to a non-government standard for automotive diesel might never have happened in the course of “business as usual. ” But it did happen, thanks to a series of actions that culminated in unanimous customer endorsement of standard commercial diesel.

The first action — in February 2000 — occurred at a half-day presentation by a DESC chemist at the Army Petroleum Center in New Cumberland, Pa. That chemist, recognizing that solids contamination has no place to hide in today’s relatively clear diesel fuels, proposed to the Army that the dark, high-sulfur fuels produced by refiners in the past should no longer control the design of our fuel specifications. DESC recommended that the use of standard commercial diesel conforming to ASTM D 975 be tested in a limited geographic area.

In June 2001, Army and Army National Guard units in the Midwestern United States began using the same, less expensive grade of diesel that was being used by nearby Navy and U.S. Postal Service facilities. Six months into this three-year test program, a DESC representative met with a specialist at Fort Carson’s 59th Quartermaster Company to check a sample of the ASTM D 975 automotive diesel fuel supplied by DESC’s contract supplier. The diesel fuel had a bright yellow tint, but it was also clear and bright. For fuels, “clear and bright” has a technical connotation indicating that the product satisfies one key performance criterion — it is transparent, not opaque. It was an auspicious beginning for a DESC customer relationship management effort that would span more than four years.

Twelve months later, a DESC representative visited the G4 Directorate at Fort Riley, Kan. That visit revealed an interesting base fuels operational structure, one in which the diesel fuel provided by DESC’s supply contractor was actually received, stored, and distributed by a service contractor. Again, a sample taken from the fuel farm revealed that the fuel was clear and bright. Because the fuel satisfied this key requirement, it could not conceal sand or rust particles, and, in fact, no solids could be seen when the fuel was placed in a clear glass jar. The only thing that was obvious was that this fuel had a greenish-yellow tint.

Citing the satisfactory performance of ASTM D 975 diesel fuel at Fort Carson and Fort Riley, DESC’s deputy director for operations recommended to the Army Petroleum Center that all Army and Army National Guard installations in the continental United States be converted from federal specification diesel to ASTM D 975 product. He also noted that after a year of operation on commercial product, Fort Carson not only had no complaints, but was also accumulating savings at the rate of $10,000 per year. Fort Riley’s more extensive operation was accumulating savings at a rate of $50,000 per year.

Encouraged by the Army’s satisfaction with use of a non-government standard for this key fuel, DESC promoted the use of ASTM D 975 product in a new venue: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In September 2003, DESC briefed civilian and military personnel assigned to the Air Force Petroleum Office. DESC’s audience included one civilian chemist who had previously worked with the standard commercial diesel initiative while assigned to the Army’s Tank-Automotive Armaments Command — a fortunate coincidence. Within a month, a military point of contact within the Air Force Petroleum Office was assigned to oversee an Air Force test program patterned after the Army program. Again, installations in the Midwest were selected for inclusion in the first round of standard commercial diesel use.

As the Army’s three-year test program drew to a close, and with DESC’s recommendation for expanded use of commercial diesel in mind, the director of the Army Petroleum Center approved a limited expansion of the Army test program to five western states. He noted that the Midwestern test program had demonstrated standard commercial diesel’s achievement of quality requirements, with no adverse impacts on operability. A subsequent director was similarly impressed with the results and dollar savings associated with this standardization initiative. Noting that more than 200 samples of ASTM D 975 standard commercial diesel fuel collected at base level satisfied quality requirements, he concluded that further expansion of the Army’s use of commercial fuel would save an additional $400,000 per year.

By October 2005, about four and a half years after the test program began, Army facilities using commercial automotive diesel fuel stretched from coast to coast. At that point, the Army had accumulated $2.5 million in savings, and no installation had asked to be converted back to federal specification product.

The Air Force is likely to realize similar savings; in just one year, it had saved $459,000 in its Midwestern test area, and it had detected no quality deficiencies. In November 2005, the Air Force Petroleum Office asked DESC to convert all remaining Air Force installations in the continental United States to commercial product. Although the Army got a head start, the Air Force is catching up quickly, and already uses standard commercial diesel in 23 states.

February 2006 marked the start of performance of more than a dozen new DESC contracts for standard commercial automotive diesel fuel. Army and Air Force activities in New England are now receiving the same grades of automotive diesel that DESC supplies to Navy and federal civilian facilities in the area.

A chapter of history in which DESC supplied federal specification automotive diesel to its Army and Air Force customers and non-government specification commercial diesel to the Navy and federal civil agencies is drawing to a close. Dark-colored, high sulfur diesel fuels that could conceal significant amounts of solids contamination are a thing of the past. DESC’s purchase specifications now reflect this fact. Standardization has claimed a victory on the most favorable terms.

Building on Success

DESC is pursuing initiatives to purchase other grades of diesel fuel to non-government specifications. These other product grades include marine diesel, ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), and biodiesel.

Marine Diesel
In June 2005, DESC moved beyond use of a purchase description to define marine diesel product performance requirements and solicited marine fuel in commercial ports that conforms to ASTM D 6985, Standard Specification for Middle Distillate Fuel Oil-Military Marine Applications. Use of this non-government standard in domestic bunker fuel solicitation SPO600-05-R-0114 represented a milestone for DESC. DESC contracting personnel solicited vendor proposals for supply of a total of 117,644,650 gallons of long-term distillate ship’s fuel in more than 120 ports over a two-year period. Several of these ports were in the state of California. Consensus specification ASTM D 6985, first published in 2004, moves the expectation of fuel composition from the worst-case sulfur content scenario defined by ISO 8217 to a 1.0 percent maximum (0.50 percent maximum where required by law). These more restrictive sulfur content limits better advertise the actual composition of commercial distillate ship fuels (marine gas oils) worldwide.

At an October 2005 meeting of commercial fuel suppliers, environmental regulators, and ship owners and operators, a representative of DESC’s Product Technology and Standardization Division presented a detailed analysis of more than 1,000 fuel samples taken during commercial refueling evolutions. Considering this market research, DESC concluded that commercial ship fuel is better than advertised, when actual fuel performance is compared to the international specification for marine gas oil (ISO 8217). DESC noted that, based on a large sampling of actual refuelings, 84 percent of non-contract open market purchases of marine gas oil in U.S. ports satisfies the key requirements of ASTM D 6985, including the sulfur content requirement. This conclusion was based on detailed laboratory analyses of 157 fuel samples. DESC further highlighted the even higher performance of fuel received by DESC’s customers in commercial ports under long-term DESC contracts: 94 percent of the fuel samples received satisfied the key characteristics of ASTM D 6985.

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board conducted a public meeting in December 2005 to discuss its plan to control the sulfur level of ship fuel for vessels operating within 24 miles of the state’s coastline. The proposed California regulation will require reduction of ship exhaust emissions beginning in January 2007, with a primary conformance strategy being the use of 0.50 percent maximum sulfur content fuel. The proposed regulation referenced ISO 8217, but did not reference the newer ASTM D 6985 specification.

DESC provided written comments to the State of California, noting that the ASTM specification for ship fuel defines maximum sulfur content at exactly the level specified in the proposed California regulation. DESC recommended that the regulation reference both ISO 8217 and the ASTM specification. It also recommended that the regulation state “use of this (ASTM D 6985) grade of marine fuel represents de facto compliance with the fuel sulfur standard that will apply during the period 2007–2009.”

Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel
DESC will soon be purchasing ultra-low sulfur diesel for vehicles. Per direction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, refiners must make available automotive diesel fuel with a maximum sulfur content of just 0.0015 percent sulfur (15 parts per million sulfur) beginning this summer. In preparation for that nationwide roll-out of extraordinarily clean-burning diesel fuel, DESC has established National Stock Number 9140-01-524-0139. One early customer for ULSD receives its product deliveries by marine barge. Almost 1 million gallons of ULSD have been successfully delivered to San Clemente Island, Calif., by DESC contractors over the past 12 months. ULSD will satisfy the requirements of model year 2007 heavy-duty trucks and, coincidentally, satisfy additional environmental requirements established by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (San Clemente Island falls within that district). DESC purchases ULSD to the same non-government standard (ASTM D 975) that is used to support standard commercial diesel buys.

Federal military and civil activities continue to rely heavily on DESC to supply them with alternative fuels in order to meet requirements to reduce the usage of conventional petroleum fuels in their vehicle fleets. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 and Executive Order 13149 (2000) require government fleets of over 20 vehicles in certain areas of the country to acquire alternative-fuel-capable vehicles, use alternative fuels in such vehicles a majority of the time, and reduce the overall usage of petroleum fuels by 50 percent over 1999 baselines. One alternative fuel technology that government activities have been able to embrace to readily adhere to those requirements is B20.

B20 is a blend of 80 percent conventional diesel fuel and 20 percent pure biodiesel, a fuel blend stock derived from either a vegetable oil or animal fat source (soybeans are the primary sources in the United States). B20 is unique in that, unlike other alternative fuels, it can be used in conventional vehicle engines without modifications. The Department of Energy grants credit to activities that use B20; that credit is equivalent to the actual acquisition of one light-duty-type alternative vehicle for every 2,250 gallons used.

B20 is used by the vast majority of military and civil activities to meet alternative fuel requirements; in fiscal year 2005, DESC contracts supplied nearly 11 million gallons of the fuel to military activities, over twice the amount supplied during FY04.

DESC has contributed extensively to ASTM’s effort to devise a non-government standard for B20 biodiesel blends. In the interim, DESC purchases biodiesel for its customers to a federal specification. However, DESC continues to invest in efforts to finalize a commercial specification for biodiesel so that all U. S. direct delivery diesel fuel buys will eventually be supported by non-government standards. //

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