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Bio fuel research makes global impact on sustainability and fossil fuel dependency

Senior Airman Jordan Taylor, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron liquid fuels technician, waits for supplies to be lowered before cleaning a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The tanks were cleaned and the fuel was examined for microorganisms which were damaging the fuel and equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Senior Airman Jordan Taylor, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron liquid fuels technician, waits for supplies to be lowered before cleaning a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The tanks were cleaned and the fuel was examined for microorganisms which were damaging the fuel and equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Blake Stamps, University of Oklahoma student, inspects a contaminant from a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, teamed with Dr. Bradley Stevenson's laboratory at the University of Oklahoma and conducted surveys of storage tanks at various bases around the country and determined what types of microorganisms existed and how to control them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Blake Stamps, University of Oklahoma student, inspects a contaminant from a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, teamed with Dr. Bradley Stevenson's laboratory at the University of Oklahoma and conducted surveys of storage tanks at various bases around the country and determined what types of microorganisms existed and how to control them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Dr. Wendy J. Goodson, Air Force Research Laboratory research biologist, compares two samples from a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The samples were analyzed by microscopy and DNA analysis. From this information, AFRL modeled the tank ecosystem, and categorized the microbes with the goal of finding resistant material, mitigating the growth or reducing damaging effects caused by the microbes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Dr. Wendy J. Goodson, Air Force Research Laboratory research biologist, compares two samples from a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014. The samples were analyzed by microscopy and DNA analysis. From this information, AFRL modeled the tank ecosystem, and categorized the microbes with the goal of finding resistant material, mitigating the growth or reducing damaging effects caused by the microbes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Members of the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron liquid fuels shop, assist Senior Airman Jordan Taylor, 2nd CES liquid fuels technician, out of a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014.The fuel tank cleaning process was examined as part of research project investigating the effects of microbes living on the bio fuel and how to mitigate them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

Members of the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron liquid fuels shop, assist Senior Airman Jordan Taylor, 2nd CES liquid fuels technician, out of a bio fuel tank on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 2, 2014.The fuel tank cleaning process was examined as part of research project investigating the effects of microbes living on the bio fuel and how to mitigate them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason McCasland)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The Air Force Research Laboratory released the results of a three-year study on microbes in the bio fuel supply at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Feb. 28, 2017.

Bio fuel burns cleaner and also helps reduce dependency on fossil fuels, however, it is a breeding ground for microbes, which are living organisms that feed on the bio fuel and cause damage to equipment. As a result, AFRL, in collaboration with Barksdale and the University of Oklahoma conducted research that is making a global impact on clean energy and fossil fuel dependency.

“Our study on microbes is the most extensive study to date in the U.S.,” said William Koff, Water and Fuel Systems Maintenance Fuels Technician, and Barksdale’s liaison for the project. “The impact isn’t just on Barksdale; the AFRL and University of Oklahoma have already released this information to the Pentagon, commercial industry and international partners. This research is foundational to the development of mitigation and remediation strategies unique to operational missions worldwide.”

Biofuel is uniquely susceptible to microbial growth, as the biological component provides a fertile food source for microbes. As they grow, they can cause major damage to equipment, storage tanks and s vehicle fleets. “These microbes contaminate tanks, plug up fuel injectors and pumps, and corrodes supply lines. We experienced this firsthand at Barksdale, which led us to reach out to AFRL to do the in-depth study.”

Barksdale worked with AFRL and OU to categorize the microbes in order to understand growth rates and potential damaging effects on materials caused by the microbes. To accomplish this, rigs containing different materials were lowered into four bio fuel tanks and extensively tested over an 18-month period. The team also examined tank cleaning processes to determine what was most effective. The project proved highly successful, leading to the development of additional AFRL and OU research studies for mitigation strategies, as well as the potential for cross-contamination into the aircraft fleet.

“The fruits of the study are that we have characterized several hundreds of these different microbes and the effects they have on the fuel and equipment. We have also categorized resistant material we can use in the future.” said Koff.

Fossil fuels are not only a scarce resource, but they are also harmful to the environment. Controlling usage and dependency on fossil fuels is an important way to protect the environment and this is an international goal of all nations, not just the United States. Barksdale’s 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, OU and AFRL has produced research that will allow for efficient usage of bio fuels on a worldwide level, protecting and sustaining the earth for future generations.