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GME conference focuses on alternative fuels

By Art Powell | | March 19, 2009

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Garrison Mobile Equipment managers from around the Marine Corps met here for their annual conference March 10-12 and a major topic of discussion was alternative fuels for powering Marine Corps vehicles.

“Our top issues are compliance with federal mandates and energy independence,” said Barry Smallwood, deputy director, Commercial Fleet, Headquarters Marine Corps. “We have to reduce our petroleum fuel consumption by two percent annually and increase our alternative fuel use by 10 percent.”

Smallwood explained that the Marine Corps has many alternative fuel vehicles, but achieving the 10 percent annual increase for them is difficult because meeting  environmental regulations slows some programs.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., has a robust program in place that utilizes alternative energy sources for powering the mobile fleet and this is a well-known fact at Headquarters Marine Corps.

“There are four compressed natural gas fuel sites for use in forklifts and other vehicles and GME here is working on the use of E-85 fuel in flex-fuel vehicles. We get a 100 percent credit toward petroleum use for each gallon of ethanol that we burn,” said Smallwood.

He explained that Marine Corps fleet managers are reducing petroleum consumption through aggressive management of their fleets, and the goal is to meet the 10 percent alternative fuel goal by next year.

“We’re doing really well here with alternative fuel with four compressed natural gas fast-fill stations. We’re also at 100 percent usage here for bio-diesel. Every truck, every forklift, every bus on this base runs off bio-diesel,” said Mike Elliott, base fleet manager, Garrison Mobile Equipment, Logistics Support Division, MCLB Albany. “By using bio-diesel and compressed natural gas here last year, we saved approximately $50,000 just in fuel.”

The savings came during a year that saw record high fuel prices, although prices have dropped recently.

While explaining how the base is using alternative fuels, Elliott also cited support from the base Installation and Environment Division for helping fund the cost of the CNG fueling stations here and the conversion of selected trucks and forklifts to natural gas.

“We also replaced 93 gasoline powered scooters in the local fleet with electric power,” explained Elliott, who also helped organize this year’s GME conference            attended by 37 participants.

“The conference was to update the plan for the future, especially in tracking fuel costs, standardizing vehicles, vehicle registrations, how to look at common problems and share information on solutions,” said Elliott.

Sharing solutions to common problems and looking to future needs and requirements was on the minds of all attendees.

“We’re here to learn new things about Garrison Mobile Equipment, the processes we need to take back to our installations so we can support the warfighter,” said Gary Funk, regional fleet manager, Southwest Region Fleet Transportation, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. “It’s a chance for us to rub elbows with Headquarters Marine Corps and other fleet managers to see what’s                happening out there.”

Funk explained that he could share new technologies with other fleet managers at the conference, such as Camp Pendleton’s fuel cell vehicles, the only ones currently operating in the Marine Corps.

“Hopefully, one day we’ll have vehicles in operation across the Marine Corps which will be zero-emissions,” he added.

Camp Pendleton was selected by the Marine Corps as a test site for the new fuel cell technology, thanks to its location and climate. Fuel cells don’t function at below-freezing temperatures, so Camp Pendleton was a logical site for testing.

“Another reason California was chosen was because our governor, Governor Schwarzenegger, wants a high-tech ‘hydrogen highway’ developed in the state along Interstate 5, so, the Department’s of Defense and Energy, working with other government agencies and private business, came up with a plan. Now, we have a hydrogen station on base,” said Funk, whose office manages 4,600 vehicles at seven locations.

If enough fuel cell vehicles operated in an area with sufficient fueling stations, then it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, he explained.

The marriage of various federal agencies to achieve environmental goals isn’t lost on other Marine Corps programs.

“We have E-85 fuel capable vehicles and we’re in the process of converting a storage tank to E-85,” said Tim Hutzley, transportation manager, Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, Calif.

Other topics discussed at the conference included other emerging technology, such as in-car video systems to record the activities and actions of the vehicle operator.

“I came here with a list of questions I wanted to discuss, to see how other people do it at other bases,” said Roger Rathbun, supervisor, Garrison Mobile Equipment, Blount Island Command, Jacksonville, Fla. “Tops on my list to talk about are maintenance issues and in-car cameras,” he said.

Following the conference, Elliott praised the professional hospitality services provided by MCLB Albany Marine Corps Community Services during each day of the meeting.

“They were absolutely outstanding in providing everything we needed during the conference. It made me proud because so many managers who attended the conference thanked me, but I told them they should thank the people who made it happen,” said Elliott.


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