An Annapolis company has won a contract to clean hundreds of underground fuel tanks at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

The two-year government contract to clean 617 storage tanks and to filterfuel with a new, environmentally safe system could amount to $1.2 million, including subcontractors' work, an Army spokesman said.

But the company, Clean Fuels Associates Inc., expects about $600,000 in work over two years.

The tanks supply heating fuel for manyof the 2,000 buildings at the Army research center, said spokesman John Yaquiant. Buildings on the 73,000-acre base lose heat periodically when dirt, algae and sludge clog fuel lines and filters.

Until recently, workers dug out underground tanks and ventured inside to remove clogs, a costly process. Workers then disposed the fuel as hazardous waste.

Clean Fuels uses a new, patented "Filter Flush" system developed by a Florida man helping his son start a boat fuel tank cleaning business.

No other East Coast company uses the system -- half as costly,

in some cases, as the conventional method that requires adherence to federal work safety rules.

With the new system, the fuel is filtered back into the tank, so the customer loses none of it. Heating systems continue working during cleanings.

"We cut down on the environmental hazard because this filters the fuel and you don't have to dispose of it," Bettencourt said.

The Army contract is the biggest for the 4-year-old franchise of a California-based company. Clean Fuels of Annapolis, which employs five people, has been vying for the contract for two years.

The Aberdeen tanks are between275 gallons and 300,000 gallons, most of them underground. Much of the work will involve cleaning residue from a heavy heating oil used in the past, Yaquiant said. The contract runs through the end of September, with an option for the government to renew it for another year,he said.

Clean Fuels cleans underground or aboveground fuel tanksof 275 gallons to 40,000 gallons. Customers include Exxon, Amoco, Giant Food Inc., Andrews Air Force Base, Baltimore Gas & Electric and AT & T.

The job of cleaning the two 300,000-gallon tanks at Aberdeen will be subcontracted out.

A California businessman patented theFilter Flush system 10 years ago and opened branches in northern andsouthern California. The system uses two hoses, one inside the other, that slip into a tank's opening. The outer hose sucks the fuel and runs it through a series of filters, removing sludge, algae and water. The inner hose returns the fuel under pressure, which flushes the tank clean.

The company also has franchise rights for Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and expects to expand.

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