Millions. Billions. Trillions. It’s impossible to talk about the riches that Fort Knox sits on without resorting to big numbers.
As every school kid knows, the impregnable U.S. Bullion Depository here guards the U.S. government’s largest reserve of gold. How large is it? Well that’s where those big numbers come in handy. The sealed underground vaults at Fort Knox hold roughly 147 million ounces of gold, according to the latest report from the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service. At today’s prices, that’s about $175 billion worth of the precious metal.
But gold isn’t Fort Knox’s only buried treasure. Beneath the storied U.S. Army installation trillions of cubic feet of methane gas – enough to power the base and its 400-bed hospital for more than 30 years – sat unused, locked up tight beneath the rock. For most of the fort’s history, it would have been infinitely easier to get the gold out of the heavily fortified, ultra-secure U.S. Bullion Depository here than to get the stranded methane out the ground.
Hydraulic fracturing changed all that and so a few years ago base officials – under pressure to make the installation both more green and more energy secure as part of a Pentagon-wide push – realized they were sitting atop a source of suddenly obtainable cheap, clean, natural fuel.
“They were just lucky with all that stranded gas right there beneath their feet,” says Paul Zink, North America Gas Account Manager with Caterpillar Electric Power.
Today, that gas is being pumped directly into homes and facilities on post. In addition, five new electricity-generating facilities, powered by G3520C natural gas-fueled generators, produce both prime power for the base and – through a process known as combined heat and power –are used to heat and cool some buildings on base.
At the heart of the Fort Knox system? Cat gas and diesel generator sets built in Lafayette, Indiana, and Cat switchgear built in Alpharetta, Georgia -- and of course Cat service and support from local dealer Whayne Cat.
But winning the contract required a strong 11th-hour team effort by Whayne Cat and Caterpillar Electric Power.
“The consulting engineers working for the design-build contractor were just going with a couple of our competitors, as well as a third-party switchgear provider and another third-party emissions solutions provider,” Zink says. "It was a piecemeal approach involving a bunch of different companies. That gave some people involved in the project pause and they invited us to the table. We just helped them understand that it didn’t need to be so complicated, that they didn’t need to go to four different companies, that this kind of project – from one end to the other – is what we do. One team. A single solution. That really opened up their eyes. And so they partnered with Whayne and Cat.”
Today, those Cat engines are running 8,000 hours a year, producing prime power for the installation and providing backup power if needed to the entire post.
“We were late to the game because we hadn’t been invited,” Zink says. “But once we got there, we just helped them understand that it didn’t need to be so complicated, that when all was said, Caterpillar was the right way to go if they wanted a single long-term partner with unbeatable local support from Whayne.”