U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research

For more than 50 years, the U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility (TFLRF) at Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) has provided state-of-the-art research, development and engineering services for the U.S. Army’s fuels and lubricants needs. The government-owned contractor-operated (GOCO) facility provides technical support services and helps to develop and maintain the Army’s specifications for fluids used in ground equipment. TFLRF functions as an extension of the U.S. Army Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) Petroleum and Water Business Area in Warren, Mich. Operated by the Fuels and Lubricants Research Division on the grounds of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, the facility reports to the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Mich.

The U.S. Army built the facility at SwRI as a stand-alone laboratory complex with capabilities for engine testing and analytical chemistry experiments. The Armed Services’ need for engineering support in fuels and lubricants for their growing fleet of military vehicles and related ground support equipment was the impetus for establishing the facility. The capabilities parallel, on a smaller scale, the commercial capabilities available at SwRI. As the partnership between the Army and SwRI evolved, the Army increasingly has depended on the Institute’s commercial facilities for the more standardized evaluations, and the TFLRF has become more focused on custom projects.

Since 1949, Southwest Research Institute has been engaged in automotive-related research and has become a recognized global leader in automotive research and development for both government and industrial clients.

The facility is a unique resource where a highly trained and experienced staff perform integrated fuels, lubricants and engine systems research and development programs involving combustion, performance characterization, engine cleanliness, vulnerability assessments and tribology. Augmented by the Institute’s diverse workforce of more than 3,300 and its facilities, which includes more than 2 million square feet of laboratories and offices on more than 1,200 acres, TFLRF’s capabilities range from fundamental investigations to field-validating testing and rapid response problem solving.

Efforts early on by the TFLRF led to changes and developments of new procedures and requirements subsequently adopted by commercial industry. Those initial results from the partnership included:

  • Identifying causes and chemistry of engine sludge and deposit formation
  • Developing a fundamental understanding of low temperature wax formation in diesel fuels
  • Analyzing engine exhaust emissions
  • Understanding diesel ignition and combustion
  • Evaluating fuel alternatives for spark ignition and diesel engines

For more than 50 years, the U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility (TFLRF) has provided state-of-the-art research, development and engineering services for the U.S. Army’s fuels and lubricants needs.

The U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility on the SwRI grounds is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility.



More recent projects include:

  • Development and fielding a fire-resistant JP-8 fuel for Army ground combat and tactical equipment that will self-extinguish, helping to save lives, reduce severe burns and minimize equipment loss by fire
  • Support for a project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to qualify jet fuels made from non-petroleum sources
  • Evaluating a variety of oil lifetime extension approaches for Army ground vehicles
  • Conducting a study to assess the feasibility of a single-specification, single-viscosity grade lubricant for military ground vehicles

Turbine Combustion Facility

TFLRF houses a unique turbine combustion capability that has been sized around the Army T-63 gas turbine engine. This facility:

  • Supports turbine combustion research focused on fuel impacts on emissions and combustion system component durability
  • Simulates the combustion section of the T-63 or other small gas turbines, or can run sectors from larger engines

In a demonstration of a potential fire-resistant fuel, following ignition, the fuel sample in a barrel located in the enclosure contained a suppressant that helped to extinguish the fire.

An outgrowth from the combustor work is a series of benchscale facilities for assessing the formation of fuel-derived deposits on turbine engine atomizers and other fuel system components. Because fuel-derived deposits are the leading cause of turbine engine overhaul, the facility has developed a number of techniques to assess the propensity of fuels to form deposits and to evaluate engine hardware for deposition tendencies. In addition to gasoline engine test stands, the TFLRF houses a number of diesel fuel injection system test stands to evaluate the impact of the following on injection system wear:

  • Low lubricity fuels
  • Fuel additives
  • Alternative fuel formulations

Lubricity and Filtration Studies on Diesel Systems

Using a number of bench-wear test devices as well as full-scale engine hardware, the laboratory is continuing to conduct research on fuel lubricity and other fuel issues affecting diesel fuel injection system durability. Fluid filtration is becoming increasingly critical to engine durability as a result of high-pressure injection systems. Filtration for both ground and aviation vehicle systems is particularly critical for military operations in high dust environments. The TFLRF facility maintains capabilities for assessing the performance of fuel filters and water separators, including an SwRI-owned facility for assessing pipeline scale filtration performance.

Turbine combustion research is focused on fuel impacts on emissions and combustion system component durability.

In the area of fluids filtration, capabilities include:

  • Fluid mechanics
  • Heat transfer
  • Sensor development
  • Liquid filtration
  • Contamination control and identification
  • Fuel and water logistics
  • Chemometric methods of analysis
  • Test methods development

Recent work has included the development and fielding of a self-extinguishing fire resistant JP-8 fuel for Army ground combat and tactical equipment. (Courtesy DOD)

In addition, projects in the following areas can be conducted:

  • Fuel properties
  • Fuel combustion
  • Aviation fuels
  • Thermal stability
  • Specialty fluids
  • Renewable fuels
  • Fuel stability
  • Flammability
  • Alternative fuels
  • Aviation fuels and thermal stability
  • Additives
  • Greases
  • Combustion kinetics
  • Fuel storage
  • Distillate fuel peroxidation

TFLRF studies diesel fuel contamination by extracting contaminants from clean and dirty fuel filters from Army battle tanks. Possible sources of contamination range from products of fuel degradation, to dirt and dust, to microbiological growth such as fungus or yeast.

In fuels, lubricants and fluids technology, TFLRF offers the following strengths:

  • Investigations of fuel/lubricant/engine interactions, exhaust emissions
  • Fuel and fluid flammability hazard assessments
  • Diesel and gasoline engine dynamometer evaluations, alternative fuels utilization, JP-8 use in diesel equipment, exhaust emissions
  • Fuel injection system bench tests
  • Tribology, engine dynamometer evaluations
  • Bench test development, fuel system materials compatibility
  • Field and fleet evaluations
  • Fuels/hardware interactions and test rig design
  • Real-time component and engine wear measurement

Filtration and environmental testing capabilities include:

  • Air, fuel and oil filter performance testing
  • Filtration efficiency, dust capacity and life measurement
  • Qualification testing to industry, military and client specifications
  • Component operability in adverse environments
  • Contamination sensitivity evaluation of fuel systems and components
  • Fuel system testing and component life assessment
  • Fuel pump testing and evaluation
  • Dust ingestion contamination studies
  • Structural integrity testing of air induction systems and components
  • System and component failure mode analysis
  • Particle transport, deposition and multiphase flows
  • Particle sizing and analysis
  • Specification development
  • Automotive and heavy duty air filtration
  • Off-highway and severe dust
  • Filter failure analysis
  • Environmental testing and evaluation
  • Dust and small particle analysis
  • Small particle interactions and mass transfer (agglomeration, coalescence, coagulation and condensation)
  • Exhaust particulate control
  • Low and zero gravity separations
  • Product design and redesign

TFLRF provides research, development and testing services in the areas of filtration, contamination sensitivity assessment, and real-time wear and oil consumption measurement in operating engines and mechanical systems. TFLRF also performs evaluations of automotive and heavy-duty engine and vehicle components and systems, including testing, analysis and design, with emphasis on real-world operation and real-life laboratory simulation.

Filtration and fine particle technology capabilities include:

  • Filtration and environmental testing
  • Real-time engine wear and measurement
  • Test system development and component testing
  • Air filtration facility design and specification
  • Air filter test stand design and fabrication
  • Radiator performance investigation (with and without contamination)

For the U.S. Army, SwRI is evaluating the impact of operational environments, including the rigors of the desert, improving processes and modernizing components aboard the CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter to improve reliability and airworthiness. The team is also evaluating rotor head and hinge pin components, as well as other systems and subsystems.

Contamination Research

TFLRF operates in more than 26,000 square feet of office and laboratory space, including 12 automated test cells dedicated to fuel contamination research and testing. Of these cells, nine are dedicated to gasoline/flexible fuel testing, two to diesel testing and one to hybrid fuel cell testing. Using an automated fluid heating and cooling system, test temperatures can be varied from -40 to 80 degrees C (-40 to 176 degrees F). Fuel system and contamination research capabilities include:

  • Contaminant characterization
  • Accelerated life testing or key-life testing
  • Material compatibility
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Test procedure development
  • Lubricity, friction and wear
  • Environmental evaluation
  • Filtration
  • Emissions and safety issues
  • Component and systems development

While the TFLRF still predominantly supports the U.S. Army, staff members are involved in a variety of projects to support all U.S. military services and other government agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and other commercial clients.

This brochure was published in September 2009. For more information about the U.S. Army TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research, contact Gary B. Bessee, Phone (210) 522-6941, Fax (210) 522-5270, Fuels and Lubricants Research Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510.

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