Food for thought

| November 03, 2005

By Randy Grider
Editor
rgrider@randallpub.com

I love the smell of diesel. It reminds me of simpler times. It is the smell I associate with my youth and hanging out with dad and helping him with his truck.

But the cost of my nostalgia has become expensive. Three bucks a gallon is a lot to pay for memories. But more important, it carries a hefty concern for today’s truckers. It’s hard to imagine just a few years ago, diesel fuel was less than a dollar per gallon. Maybe it’s time to find a new smell to lure me back to yesteryear.

How about the smell of french fries? They remind me of backyard cookouts when my dad was off the road.

The growing interest in alternative fuel sources just might hold the key. Biodiesel is gaining popularity with the cost of diesel fuel seemingly hitting new highs each week.

Recently, California and Minnesota publicly jumped on the biodiesel bandwagon. In October, Minnesota became the first state to mandate 2-percent biodiesel blends. California followed with a law that allows public agencies to use vehicles burning biodiesel blends. In the private sector, plans have been announced to build new biodiesel plants or increase production of existing facilities.

Biodiesel can be made from soybeans, agricultural oils and fats, or recycled restaurant grease. With little or no modification, it can be mixed with petroleum diesel to run in diesel engines. It ranges from B2, a 2-percent blend, to B100, pure vegetable oils. B20 or 20-percent biodiesel is the most popular blend for commercial vehicles.

Proponents say it burns cleaner than fossil fuels, and with diesel prices soaring and more biodiesel production capacity being built, it is becoming competitively priced to use.

Country star Willie Nelson has even added his name to the mix – starting a company called BioWillie.

Partnering with four others, including his old friend and truckstop owner Carl Cornelius of Carl’s Corner Truckstop in Carl’s Corner, Texas, Nelson has several locations in four states.

In addition to people looking to ease the pain of rising fuel prices, state and federal government incentives for using alternative fuels have helped speed the switchover to biodiesel. About 100 school systems across the country are now fueling their buses with various blends – and the number is rapidly growing.

The production of biodiesel is also up dramatically. In 1999, about 500,000 gallons of biodiesel were used. Last year, it increased to 25 million gallons. The National Biodiesel Board estimates that number to double by the end of this year. Biodiesel is even winning over the military – the U.S. Navy is this country’s largest consumer of biodiesel.

The biodiesel buzz has even inspired a growing number of do-it-yourselfers. Homebrewers are concocting their own blends, some using 100 percent recycled vegetable oils to burn in their vehicles – primarily farm equipment. Some people report that the emissions are quite pleasant to the senses – especially the nose. French fries, doughnuts and popcorn are popular descriptions of biodiesel exhausts.

Besides the getting-better-but-not-there-yet costs and availability, biodiesel does have its drawbacks. According to BioWillie.com, it, “over time, will soften and degrade certain types of elastomers and natural rubber compounds used in older fuel hoses and pump seal systems. Most vehicles made after 1994 will have fully synthetic fuel lines and seals so will not suffer from this problem, but older vehicles need to be monitored.”

Biodiesel also has a higher gel point. B100 gets slushy at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. B20 has a gel point of 7 degrees. Anti-gel appears to be a must in cold weather.

Also, if you’re considering using a biodiesel blend, always check your engine warranty. High blends of more than 20 percent biodiesel may negate some warranties.

If diesel prices continue to climb, who knows what the future may hold for biodiesel. Perhaps one day, the smell of french fries or doughnuts may do more than whet someone’s appetite. It may be the catalyst for sweet memories of a distant time when Dad or Mom returned home from a long trip in his or her palate-pleasing rig.

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