Diesel’s competitors

| April 02, 2008

“The technology exists, but we need the fuels,” said Leif Johansson, chief executive officer of the Volvo Group, at the Washington event.

Any of these fuels could prove to be useful in heavy trucks, in Volvo’s view, but their widespread acceptance will depend largely on political and economic decisions affecting their availability.

Various kinds of hybrid technology are being rapidly developed, and a few even are finding their way into medium-duty trucks used in urban service.

Research by Eaton Corp. has shown that a hybrid drive consisting of a large bank of batteries and a motor-generator mounted at the flywheel can prove quite useful even in an over-the-road Class 8 operation. When drivers cruise down level interstates, they often brake and then accelerate. Hybrid systems could recover this energy rather than throwing it away.

The technology also can be used to greatly reduce clutch wear by using the powerful motor-generator for initial starts, especially when on a steep hill. It may even be adapted to provide power for the sleeper while the truck is shut down overnight, supplementing or even eliminating the need for an APU.

Biofuel benefits still hotly debated
Critics of the biofuel craze have argued that producing a gallon of some biofuels actually consumes more than a gallon of fossil fuels, due to the associated costs, including refining and crop production.

The National Biodiesel Board argues on its website (www.biodiesel.org) that this is not true of U.S. biodiesel, production of which gains 3.2 units of energy for every unit of fossil energy put in. “Biodiesel reduces net carbon-monoxide emissions by 78 percent compared to petroleum diesel,” the board says.

A paper published in National Resources Research claims “that biodiesel production requires 27 percent more fossil energy than is present in biodiesel.” A paper called “Biodiesel Energy Balance” by two University of Idaho researchers says the NRR paper has seriously flawed methodology and “leads to an absurd result.”

A 2006 study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that switching from petroleum diesel to soy-based biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases 41 percent, versus only a 12 percent reduction for corn-based ethanol – but that neither can replace much petroleum without seriously cutting into the U.S. food supply. If every ear of corn and soybean in the United States were turned into biofuel and poured into our engines, the study said, it would replace only 12 percent of U.S. gasoline demand and 6 percent of U.S. diesel demand.

‘The right thing to do’
Here are a few of the fleets, large and small, that are on the cutting edge of testing alternative fuels’ suitability for trucking.

STATES LOGISTICS SERVICES of Buena Park, Calif., decided to fuel its Class 8 trucks, all Internationals with ISM engines, with B99 – 99 percent biodiesel to 1 percent petroleum diesel. “Reduced emissions was the key motivation in our decision,” says Matt Montford, sales manager. “Our drivers report that the engines are quieter, are smoother to operate, and there’s no black smoke.” The move also “sets us apart as a forward-looking business,” Montford says. “We believe it’s the right thing to do.”

EASTMAN CHEMICAL of Kingsport, Tenn., upgraded 200 trucks to 30 percent biodiesel after two years of successfully running on B20. “It was an excellent opportunity to do something beneficial for the community and the environment at the same time,” says Darren Curtis, an Eastman staff engineer. Drivers love the performance and decreased odor and smoke.

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