Air Force Touts Benefits of Alternative Fuels
The Air Force plans to step up efforts to use alternative fuels throughout the service, officials said. During a recent Department of Energy "Clean Cities" conference in Washington, D.C., the Air Force sponsored the Defense Department's first alternative-fueled vehicle workshop.
"This was the first significant presence we've had at [this] conference," said Lt. Col. Dave Shepherd, chief of vehicle environmental policy for the Air Staff. "From the Air Force's perspective it was very beneficial. As we participate in this type of event we learn from our partners in the other services and civil government as well as the fuel providers and vehicle manufacturers."
The defense workshop involved 70 people from the military services and the Defense Logistics Agency. Transportation experts and engineers particularly were interested in partnering for future projects, officials said. "Not only was it an educational process, but in some cases, we were able to get some initial agreements to work together and solve problems," Shepherd said.
During the conference, John Deere Power Systems Group and Blue Bird Corporation donated a compressed natural gas engine to the Air Force for training. The engine will be used to train mechanics at the joint Air Force and Navy school at Port Hueneme, California. The Air Force bought seven Blue Bird buses with the same engine.
Maintenance of alternative-fueled vehicles is different but not more difficult, said Shepherd. He notes that, in some ways, it might even be easier on compressed natural gas and electric engines.
"They're cleaner, so the maintenance isn't as intensive," he explained. "And in the case of electric vehicles, there's no oil or antifreeze to change, no hoses, no belts and less wear on the brakes."
The Air Force operates the second largest fleet of alternative-fueled vehicles in the world. This includes a mix of nearly 2,000 compressed natural gas, propane, methanol, electric and hybrid electric vehicles at more than 50 locations, including Guard and Reserve units.
"The Clean Air Act of 1990 and the Environmental Policy Act of 1992 first brought to our attention the need to begin using alternative fueled vehicles," Shepherd said. "Ultimately, they're a much more efficient means of transportation. You can run an electric vehicle for about 7 cents a mile, compared to 22 cents for a gasoline-driven vehicle." More than financial reasons, however, are involved.
"The initial gains from alternative-fueled vehicles are not in cost savings," he said. "They reduce our dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment through clean air.
"We need to be much less dependent on oil. We're not really an independent nation when we have to rely so much on other countries to supply us with the oil to operate our vehicles."
The Air Force is also complying with a federal mandate to buy alternative-fueled vehicles, said Carl Perazzola, director of the alternative-fueled vehicle system program office, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. An executive order directs that 50 percent of all government vehicles brought into metropolitan areas in 1998 be alternatively fueled. In 1999, that number goes up to 75 percent.
"The nation has asked the military to pioneer this new technology," Perazzola said. But he anticipates some difficulty in bringing in the infrastructure, such as refueling and charging stations.
"They're just not plentiful either on bases or in the civilian community right now," he said. "One of the ways we're working to solve these problems is through workshops and conferences.
"We want to see alternative-fueled vehicles commercialized because eventually this will bring their cost down," Perazzola said. And once they do, he added, "everyone will receive the rewards of a much more reliable and better performing type of transportation.
The Department of Transportation predicts it will be 10 to 25 years before alternative-fueled vehicles dominate in more than 25 percent of the transportation sector.-by Air Force News Service