Magazine article National Defense

Used Oil Recycling Helps Heat Air Force Base; Cuts Pollution

Magazine article National Defense

Used Oil Recycling Helps Heat Air Force Base; Cuts Pollution

Article excerpt

Recovered oil from trucks, generators, aircraft, provide inexpensive energy

An airman enjoying some free time tinkering at the Whiteman Air Force Base auto hobby shop doesn't give much thought to the comfortable temperature inside the shop.

The air, in fact, is being warmed by a used oil-fired furnace, one of several the Johnson County, Missouri, base has installed in recent years.

Whiteman is home to the B-2 stealth bomber, U.S. Air Force Reserve 442nd fighter wing and the Missouri Army National Guard 1st Battalion 135th Aviation.

Opened in 1942 as part of the U.S. military mobilization following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Whiteman was inactivated during the mid-1940s, but reopened in 1951 and turned over to the Strategic Air Command. The first operational B-2 bomber arrived at the base in 1993.

Eventually, 21 B-2s will be assigned to the 509th. Like any base, Whiteman has its share of oil-using vehicles.

"Before we started on-site recycling by burning our used oil, we had been collecting it in drums and selling it offsite for a marginal sum," explains Whiteman's pollution prevention chief, Jim Brockmeier. "It was stored, pumped out by a contractor, leaving a messy collection of barrels, and we were realizing very little benefit from it."

Burning Used Oil

In 1995, Whiteman's pollution prevention personnel attended a symposium where they were introduced to the practice of burning used oil for heat recovery. Based on their recommendations, Whiteman partnered with a Leola, Pennsylvania-based company, Clean Burn Inc., which manufactures used oil-fired heating systems. The result was the installation of three 500,000 BTU/hr. Model CB-5000 furnaces. A fourth is scheduled for installation in the near future.

The furnaces are used to heat the auto hobby shop, as well as the base's recycling center. The used oil is recovered from a number of sources, according to Brockmeier, including the base support auto fleet, generators, aircraft, and building systems.

The boom and matting used to absorb stray liquids drained during aircraft maintenance is also a source of used oil. A centrifuge extracts the used oil from the material which is recycled and reused. "We collect and burn every drop of used oil on the base," he says. Collection tanks with a total capacity of 13,000 gallons are now in place to hold the used oil amassed over the warm months for burning during the heating season.

Potential to Pollute

Not long ago, used oil was casually discarded in landfills. The sobering realization that one gallon of used oil carried the potential to pollute one million gallons of fresh drinking water led environmental engineers to develop ways to re-refine used oil. But declining world crude oil prices made the rerefinement process less lucrative. Burning the spent fuel, meanwhile, appears to reconcile environmental and economic concerns.

Today, hundreds of millions of gallons of used oil are hauled off to be used as an inexpensive energy source. Those responsible for generating it pay $5 or more per gallon for the service, do not reap the benefits of a free onsite energy source, and still retain the costly liability for improper off-site disposal.

Despite the money-saving, on-site applications for used oil, improper dumping has hardly abated. The National Oil Recyclers Association estimates than 300 million gallons are improperly disposed of each year. Recognizing that one quart of used oil can create a two-acre slick on surface water, and that 40 percent of the pollution in U.S. waterways comes from used motor oil, the environmental benefits of recycling used oil by burning it for energy recovery are easy to appreciate, say association officials. …

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