Diesel’s competitors

| April 02, 2008

SAFEWAY converted its entire fleet of more than 1,000 trucks to biodiesel fuel, and every truck now sports a green sticker with a soybean leaf and the words, “Powered by Biodiesel: Clean, Renewable, Domestic.” The grocery chain says this change, in terms of pollution, is the equivalent of taking almost 7,500 cars off the road.

UPS ordered 167 compressed-natural-gas delivery trucks for operations in Atlanta, Dallas, and the California cities of Fresno, Los Angeles, Ontario and San Ramon, beginning in 2009. They will feature Cummins-Westport engines on Freightliner custom chassis and are expected to yield 20 percent fewer emissions and 10 percent better fuel economy than 2007 diesels.

The company’s global alternate-fuel fleet totals 1,629 vehicles, including CNG, propane, electric and hybrid electric, says UPS spokesman Ralph Caldwell. Also, biodiesel will be adopted for ground support vehicles at the company’s Worldport air hub in Louisville, Ky.
CHRISTIANSEN BROTHERS, a heavy hauler based in Spanish Fork, Utah, converted to fuel refined by Better Biodiesel. The reasons include lower emissions and maintenance costs, longer life for equipment and the allure of renewable energy, says CEO Lew Christiansen.

SMITHTOWN, N.Y, requires the independent contractors who collect the town’s garbage to use compressed natural gas, rather than diesel fuel, saying that diesel costs too much and pollutes too much. To make it easier for the contractors, Smithtown and fuel supplier Clean Energy have agreed to set the prices at $2.33 per diesel gallon through 2008, with yearly increases up to $2.94 DGE (diesel gallon equivalent) in 2013. Four contractors, all on seven-year contracts, will use a federal alternative-vehicle tax credit to offset up to 80 percent of the cost of the new trucks.

DECKER TRUCK LINE of Fort Dodge, Iowa, is testing B20 biodiesel in 10 trucks in a two-year study in partnership with the Iowa Central Community College, the National Biodiesel Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So far, the biodiesel trucks average a tenth of a mile per gallon less in fuel economy, but that difference could be the result of driving techniques, says Donald Heck, the college’s director of biotechnology.

Diesel’s other cocktails: ethanol – or even water
For quick and easy ignition, diesel engines need a fuel with a high cetane level, meaning it’s easily fractured by heat. The fuel also needs to be a heavy liquid with a high lubricity. For this reason, most automotive engineers believe that ethanol may be a fine fuel for cars but is unsuited for a diesel. O2Diesel, a Delaware company, has bucked the conventional wisdom by developing a diesel-ethanol blend anyhow.

The trick to making this blend work in either a medium or heavy truck engine is additives. O2Diesel’s blend consists of 7.7 percent ethanol, 91.7 percent diesel fuel and 0.6 percent additives. The additives keep the ethanol, which is much lighter than diesel fuel, fully mixed, and ensure that the cetane rating is at least as high as the base diesel fuel, while adding lubricity to bring the level to 40 percent above the base fuel.

The company also offers O2-B20, which substitutes for the 91.7 percent diesel fuel a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 71.7 percent petroleum diesel.

The company says its test of O2Diesel in a 1991 Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine reveals 4.3 percent less carbon monoxide, 0.9 percent less NOx and 20 percent less particulate compared to ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

Moreover, less soot produced in combustion means less soot in the oil, which means longer change intervals, the company says. It also could reduce a fleet’s carbon footprint significantly since the fuel contains less carbon than straight diesel, and the carbon the ethanol adds to the exhaust will effectively be recycled into the next crop, the company says.

Fleets with as few as seven vehicles are now using the fuel, but their drivers would need to do their own fueling at a central location, says Mark Jorgensen, O2- Diesel sales development manager. The product is blended by certified petroleum jobbers who supply it to the fleets’ tanks.

O2Diesel costs slightly more than straight diesel right now, but as the cost of straight diesel goes up, there soon may be parity between the costs of the two fuels, Jorgensen says. The fuel also “appears to resist jelling better than regular diesel” and easily can be kept winter-ready with standard anti-gel additives, Jorgensen says.

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