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TARDEC scientists target unsafe fuel contaminants

TARDEC Scientist Jill Bramer worked with a joint team that included TARDEC, the Navy, Air Force and the DLA-E to keep vehicle and aircraft fuel free of dirt, rust, water and other contaminants.

TARDEC Scientist Joel Schmitigal conducts a test at Fort Rucker.

Keeping dirt, rust, water and other contaminants out of fuel used in Army ground vehicles and aircraft helps each system operate safer, cleaner and more efficiently. U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) scientists and their teammates at the Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility (FLRF) in San Antonio are working with the Navy, Air Force and Defense Logistics Agency-Energy (DLA-E) to develop improved particle and water detection methods, improve filtering systems, define cleanliness standards and recommend how to prevent contaminated fuel from making its way into vehicle/aircraft fuel tanks.
 
“It is mainly a fuel safety issue,” TARDEC Research Chemist Joel Schmitigal remarked. “We knew fuel contamination by water and particulates had been a problem for years, particularly for the Army. We cannot keep our fuel as clean and dry as the commercial aviation industry. Commercial standards and Army standards call for us to monitor for dirt and filter effectiveness once a month, and check for water once a day in our fuel streams. But accidents still happen.”
 
In a joint study, TARDEC and U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center researchers traced 15 Army aircraft incidents from 2005-2009 to contaminated fuel. In a commercial aviation incident in 2008, a British Airways accident was attributed to ice crystals forming in the jet fuel that clogged the fuel-oil heat exchanger in each engine.
 
“This is important to the ground vehicle side of the world, too, due to the influx of new high-pressure injection systems that require cleaner, dryer fuels than previous diesel system designs,” Schmitigal explained.
 
The researchers developed contaminant testing kit prototypes for both ground systems and aircraft to rapidly detect and measure undissolved water and particulates in fuel. In April, Army researchers evaluated light extinction particle counters to detect fuel contamination at Forts Rucker and Campbell. Similar evaluations are being performed around the country by the Navy, Air Force and DLA-E.
 
“We presented our research on several automated methods to monitor fuel in near real-time during refueling operations,” Schmitigal stated. “All our data comes from CONUS operations, but we know that fuel in Afghanistan is prone to more contaminants than the fuel we receive in the United States from known fuel sources.”
 
TARDEC researchers continue working with the FLRF to develop inline contaminant detection technologies for engines. Ongoing studies with Product Manager Petroleum and Water Systems, led to several Small Business Innovation Research contracts with private companies to develop inline particulate analyzers.
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