Workshops Tout Renewable Diesel

Ever dream that the fuel pushing your rig down the road was once used to fry catfish and hush puppies? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, and in fact more than 100 fleets – mostly government-owned – now burn fuel made from non-petroleum products such as recycled cooking oil, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Biodiesel is a fuel made by alcohol chemically reacting with non-petroleum oils or fats. Soybean oil is most commonly used but other stocks such as recycled restaurant grease, palm oil, corn oil and canola oil are also used to make the fuel.

While the fuel’s use is limited for now by a lack of availability and distribution infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Energy has teamed with biodiesel suppliers to hold a series of workshops to introduce fleet users and others to renewable diesel fuels. The first workshop, held in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 25, featured a panel of fleet managers currently using biodiesel fuels, as well as roundtable discussions on fuel supplies, emissions and other issues.

A key benefit of biodiesel, according to DOE, is that the fuel offers a domestically produced, renewable alternative to petrodiesel that can be used in all diesel engines with little or no modification. It also burns cleaner, minimizing black smoke and greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the fuel is more expensive and contains a little less energy output than petrodiesel. It is also not widely available and is sold for the most part only in bulk quantities, making it best suited for trucks that return to a home terminal each day for refueling. There are nine public filling stations offering biodiesel. These stations are in Point Richmond, Calif.; Phoenix; Kahului, Hawaii; San Francisco; Aiken, S.C.; Sparks, Nev.; Arundel, Maine; Bluffton, Ind. and Seattle.

In October, biodiesel supplier World Energy Alternatives of Chelsea, Mass., announced a contract from the Defense Energy Support Center to supply biodiesel for the Postal Service in New York City and Department of Interior sites in Washington, D.C.

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Even some private fleets have turned to the fuel. David Skokan, operations manager for Bode Gravel Company of San Francisco, said all 38 of his company’s cement mixers and all its yard equipment burn 100 percent biodiesel, or B100. The fuel costs about 10 cents a gallon more than standard diesel, and Skokan said the trucks lose “a couple percent in fuel economy,” but he also said the fuel has “cleaned up our older engines, some as much as 50 to 70 percent,” in terms of tailpipe emissions.

Skokan’s fleet burns B100 made from 100 percent soybean oil by World Energy Alternatives. “There’s no popcorn smell with the pure soybean oil,” he said.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, the fuel is used in state fleets in Ohio, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, and by a number of major utility companies, such as Commonwealth Edison, Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and Alabama Power. It is also used in a number of federal fleets including the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army.

Despite what seems to be increasing interest in the fuel, efforts to mandate its use continue to draw resistance from several industries. NATSO, representing truckstop and travel plaza operators, opposed a bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature earlier this year that would have required all the diesel-powered vehicles owned or operated by the state to run on a blend of at least 5 percent biodiesel fuel by volume.

According to NATSO, the Minnesota requirement would make diesel fuel sold in Minnesota “substantially more expensive than fuel sold in neighboring states,” which would put truckstop operators in the state at a competitive disadvantage. No action was taken on the bill before the state’s legislative session ended.