On the road again with Bio Willie

| July 02, 2006

The lubricity factor increases the advantages of biodiesel with the upcoming changeover to ultra-low-sulfur diesel coming up. His main concern is the lack of availability, but he says there are plans for two large plants in his part of the country. “If fuel prices climb the way they are rumored to, then there may be a price advantage with biodiesel that will hasten its general availability,” Burkhart says.

Greg Greving of Chapman, Neb., owns G&G Farms and operates a trucking company that delivers construction and farm equipment. He uses B2 and agrees with Burkhart that the lubricity benefits cannot be over-emphasized. “Increased lubricity can extend engine life through the prevention of premature fuel system wear and tear,” he says. In spite of the cold weather in his part of the country, he’s had no gelling problems, even in below-zero temperatures.

Like Burkhart and Greving, Lamar Owens from Mt. Home, Ark., fuels his 10 trucks with biodiesel when it’s available and says he’s pleased with the performance. “It makes my engines run cleaner, better.”

Owens comes from a long line of farmers and now hauls cotton. He likes the idea of helping farmers and lessening dependence on foreign oil. Still, he says he’s going to stick with name brands like BioWillie because of concern with standards and possible gelling.

Owens isn’t the only one worried about inconsistent standards resulting in gelling. In Minnesota, where the law requires all diesel sold in the state to contain 2 percent biodiesel, problems occurred with gelling during this year’s cold winter season. The problem came from inconsistent quality control, resulting in off-spec fuel containing glycerol, a by-product of the vegetable oil processing. The Minnesota law had to be suspended briefly but went back into effect.

Other truckers express concerns about injector seals and hoses degrading. Burkhart has not experienced any problems, but over time biodiesel will soften and degrade older fuel hoses and pump seal systems, especially when using high-percent blends. Manufacturers recommend that natural or butyl rubbers not be allowed contact with biodiesel or they will turn sticky and fall apart. Most parts made after 1994 have fully synthetic fuel lines and seals, but older models need to be monitored.

While biodiesel is an excellent solvent, first-time users need to be aware that the solvent effect will quickly clean out and release accumulated deposits on tank walls and pipes.

The current patchwork of types and available blends contributes to the difficulty in evaluating the efficacy of the product. It’s hard to compare prices, and while some blends are more expensive than regular diesel, blends like BioWillie actually cost less than the diesel average in some locations, depending on the current price of crude oil.

The future
Demand for biodiesel is fueling interest at truckstops. Jenny Love Meyer, public relations director for Love’s Travel Stops, says the company’s two Texas locations are doing well, and there have been positive trucker reviews on the product. They carry BioWillie at both locations and attribute the popularity to Nelson’s strong trucking and farming fan base.

The future is bright for this renewable, clean-burning source of fuel as its problems with availability and gelling get resolved, and the new ultra-low-sulfur diesel requirements increase interest in the lubricity properties.

Truckers say they are open to trying the product if the price is right and, in many cases, are willing to spend a little bit more. More than 45 percent of truckers polled on eTrucker.com say they think biodiesel is a stepping stone to something better and 37 percent say it is here to stay. Truckers list “sticking it to foreign oil producers,” followed by helping farmers, as their leading reason to try the fuel.

No matter what the motivation, there’s no disputing the dramatic difference in emissions with even a small percentage of biodiesel usage. And as more cities and industries begin to mandate biodiesel, more consistent production standards will eliminate the guesswork from the burgeoning biodiesel industry.

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