Hill master sergeant relates his experience with synthetic fuels test

Apr 22 2010 - 10:07am

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MSgt Christopher Hayes, section chief of Fuels Operations at Hill Air Force Base, discusses synthetic fuels at his office. Mary Lou Gorny/Hilltop Times
MSgt Christopher Hayes, section chief of Fuels Operations at Hill Air Force Base, discusses synthetic fuels at his office. Mary Lou Gorny/Hilltop Times

As aircraft after aircraft in the Air Force becomes certified in the new blend of biomass fuel, the focus is growing on the areas opening up by such synthetic fuel developments.

Hill's own Master Sgt. Christopher Hayes, section chief of fuels operation, played his part in one such test at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., as the C-17 Globemaster III was prepared for a certification flight more than two years ago. The C-17 flew from McChord to McGuire AFB, N.J., in December 2007, as the first transcontinental flight to test the blended fuel created by the Fischer-Tropsch process. The fuel currently being tested by the Air Force is a 50/50 blend of regular JP-8 and Hydro-treated Renewable Jet bio-fuel otherwise known as HRJ.

As Hayes points out, the technology to create the fuel has been around since World War II. Germany used the process for 25 percent of its automobile fuel and 9 percent of its war machines with fuel created from coal for its part of the war.

"Any carbon-based stock, such as coal, animal fats, garbage or a mass or solid can be used in the decades- and-decades-old Fischer-Tropsch process," Hayes said.

He noted the pending plans reported by the Air Force news sources of Tyson/Syntroleum to take animal fats from Tyson's operations and convert it in a Louisiana plant to make either HRJ fuel for jet aircraft or green diesel fuel.

Hayes, former McChord AFB section chief over distribution, talked about his section's part in the C-17 certification flight to make sure that the fuel trucks performed as called upon and the aeromatics -- the rubber seals and hoses -- to see if they were affected by the change in fuel.

"We spent about a week, receiving and blending and testing the fuel to make sure that we had the proper 50/50 blend. I also had a hand in directing the fuel trucks and servicing to the aircraft. Part of that servicing was testing the aeromatics of our vehicles. When we talk about aeromatics -- it's for example, do our rubber seals and our hoses keep it from leaking? Some fuels react well with certain types of rubber. ... The 50/50 blend we had no problem," he said.

The only changes made for the test were filter elements, and that was purely done as a safety precaution, Hayes said, as no signs in clogging or anything else seemed to present itself. A few adjustments had to be made for the process for the aircraft itself. "All testing that took place everything seemed to be on mark," he said. "It did reduce the emissions it put out while it was in the air."

"We mixed enough fuel for less than 15 flights," he said of the successful test.

"Biodiesel has the potential to reduce the footprint for biocarbons as they continue to refine the process," Hayes said. Algae is also showing promise as a new biomass that can be converted into biofuels. He said they could grow it in an evaporative pond, or similar environment to the Great Salt Lake area and the costs could be minimal. "Any of those synthetic fuels (from animal fats, biomass or algae) are going to reduce the hydrocarbons put out into our atmosphere," he said. "They just need to refine the processes to get us to the point we're less dependent on traditional fuels."

"The Air Force has set a goal to have all its aircraft certified in the new synfuels by the end of this year," Hayes said..

The field of fuel supply and distribution has grown tremendously in the 19 years Hayes has served in the Air Force. He compares it in some ways to the advancement made in computers and how as you buy one product another is being developed that will far surpass the current one.

Hayes said the youth coming into the Air Force are better prepared for the technical aspects of the fuels job than he was when he first signed on because of their experience with computers.

"Now I'm trying to take my experiences and knowledge over the last 19 years and train our younger troops to replace me and continue to carry on the fuel legacy because we are a very tight unit around the world," he said.

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