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Malmstrom mechanics testing new bio-based vehicle oil

Airman 1st Class Michael Schulz, a 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight mechanic, changes the oil of a government vehicle March 22, 2016, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Schulz was one of two Airmen tasked with changing the oil of six vehicles which will be testing a new bio-based synthetic oil which could potentially help the Air Force’s initiative to use more sustainable materials and be environmentally conscious. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

Airman 1st Class Michael Schulz, a 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight mechanic, changes the oil of a government vehicle March 22, 2016, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Schulz was one of two Airmen tasked with changing the oil of six vehicles which will be testing a new bio-based synthetic oil which could potentially help the Air Force’s initiative to use more sustainable materials and be environmentally conscious. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

Airman 1st Class Michael Schulz, a 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight mechanic, locates a vehicle’s oil filter March 22, 2016, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Schulz was one of two Airmen tasked with changing the oil of six vehicles which will be undergoing a 12-18 month testing period of a new bio-based synthetic oil. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

Airman 1st Class Michael Schulz, a 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight mechanic, locates a vehicle’s oil filter March 22, 2016, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Schulz was one of two Airmen tasked with changing the oil of six vehicles which will be undergoing a 12-18 month testing period of a new bio-based synthetic oil. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFNS) -- Malmstrom Air Force Base is one of four bases across the service chosen to test out a new bio-based synthetic oil in its vehicles.

The experiment, being carried out by the 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight, is headed by the Defense Logistics Agency and the 441st Vehicle Support Chain Operations Squadron from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Team leads for the initiative visited Malmstrom AFB on March 22 for a briefing and to complete oil changes on six vehicles testing the synthetic oil. Team leads include an Airman from the 441st VSCOS, a project manager and project engineer.

"This is being sponsored by the DLA and Office of the Secretary of Defense, and we have a select number of bases that we have chosen random vehicles from to participate in this project," said Senior Master Sgt. Joel Villarin, a 441st VSCOS team lead.

The synthetic oil would be more environmentally friendly because it is plant-based, which aligns with the Air Force's initiative to utilize more eco-friendly materials and resources.

"From the Air Force perspective, we are pushing for an alternative fuel, more for an energy sufficient and environmentally conscious effort," Villarin said. "Not having participation could make or break the process."

The proposed idea is that if the oil proves to be just as capable as the current oil being used, then the switch to the synthetic oil will be made Air Force wide, possibly even across the Defense Department.

Malmstrom AFB was the last base to begin the experiment, which began in January at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, according to Villarin. From there, the oil was placed into testing at Fairchild AFB, Washington, and Luke AFB, Arizona.

In an effort to keep the integrity of the testing, the bases chosen to participate are radically different in terms of either climate or vehicle use.

Seymour Johnson AFB is hot and humid, Fairchild AFB has the 336th Training Group where the search, evasion, resistance, escape school uses vehicles to transport trainees across rugged terrain, and Luke AFB is hot and dry, Villarin said. Malmstrom AFB puts a great deal of miles on its vehicles from travel to and from the missile field, as well as in snow and extreme cold conditions.

In addition to the Air Force, the Department of Homeland Security's Law Enforcement Training Center has also begun testing the synthetic oil in operational vehicles.

"The responsibilities (for the participants) are to monitor the vehicle's performance and to provide samples periodically so we can see exactly what the oil is doing to those engines," Villarin said.

The testing period will last for the next 12-18 months.

"There are three oil manufactures providing the oil, balanced throughout the AF sites, so all three get the same amount of vehicles and variety to test the oil in the vehicles," said George Handy, the project manager.

According to Handy, the bio-based oil is a full-synthetic oil produced from an agricultural blend including canola seed, soybean and synthetic petroleum.

"Bio-based motor oils are a huge drive in that they are providing new markets to the seed growers associations in the United States," he said. "These manufacturers are looking for additional outlets for their products and are creating stimulus jobs in the U.S. using domestic reproduced products."

The oil developed is very stable and can uphold the current oil change mileage -- 7,500 miles -- used by the Air Force. The oil also has the potential to extend the mileage up to 10,000 in the future, Handy said.

"There shouldn't be any change in the performance of any of the vehicles because they are already running on synthetic fuels," he said.

For the testing phase, Malmstrom AFB has provided six vehicles, two each from the 583rd Missile Maintenance Squadron, the 341st Operations Group and 341st Security Forces Group.

"We have a good variety of vehicles used to determine oil efficiency," said Dave Maddox, a 341st LRS transportation specialist.

If the testing is successful, the bio-based oil will be made available to purchase through normal channels. That could mean using a more sustainable product that is domestically produced, ultimately improving national security by reducing dependency on foreign oil.

"This allows (Malmstrom AFB) as an installation and (the Air Force) as a service to be able say that you are buying more green, sustainable products," Handy said.

According to Brian Yallaly, the project engineer, providing samples to a third-party lab will determine how well the oil is sustaining and whether or not more miles can be added to the oil's efficient life.

The vehicles being tested at Malmstrom AFB will all be under command of the 341st LRS vehicle management flight for oil changes.

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