Red, White and Biodiesel

From use by fleets to home heating oil, the popularity of biodiesel blends gained ground in the past year as people became more familiar with the renewable fuel's positive characteristics. For many, especially over-the-road truckers, fueling up with biodiesel has become synonymous with displaying the American flag.
By Holly Jessen | December 15, 2006
The advantages for fleet vehicles using biodiesel are well-known among biodiesel supporters. The renewable fuel helps to reduce emissions and odors. For many, it fulfills a sense of patriotism.

In the past year, Biodiesel Magazine reported on a variety of fleets that have adopted the cleaner-burning fuel. Companies ranging from L.L. Bean and Sugarbush Resort to New Belgium Brewing Co. and Terminal Systems Inc. have successfully used biodiesel blends in fleet vehicles. As the year progressed, even more fleets jumped on the biodiesel bus and began to use the renewable fuel. Others-pleased with past performance-increased the amount of biodiesel in the blended fuel.

From his unique perspective as director of outreach and development for the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), Tom Verry has witnessed the emergence of biodiesel in the fleet vehicle market. Verry has been promoting biodiesel use for 15 years, and has played a part in developing the growing acceptance and use of biodiesel as it becomes more common among city, state and federal government fleets, as well as with school buses and private trucking companies. "That's kind of our mainstream markets now," he tells Biodiesel Magazine. The NBB aims to keep fleet use trending upward by continuing to provide education and promotion in new markets. For example, in the past couple of years the NBB has been working with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to help miners meet new underground mine safety regulations with tightened emissions standards using B99. "Biodiesel is one of the most cost-effective ways to do that," Verry says, adding that it's a market the NBB continues to pursue.

Another biodiesel market that's experienced recent growth is the over-the-road trucking industry. While interest is growing cautiously with the large trucking fleets, independent owner-operators are excited about using biodiesel blends. "They love the idea of biodiesel," Verry says.

Biodiesel is a common topic of conversation among truck drivers. It's also a frequent topic of discussion on XM Satellite Radio. Disc jockey Bill Mack, known to his loyal listeners as "The Satellite Cowboy," hosts a show that is popular with truck drivers. Supporting America's farmers, homeland security issues and energy independence are the biggest reasons truck drivers are interested in biodiesel. "It's absolutely a red, white and blue issue," Verry says.

When the NBB sets up its booth at truck shows, interest is always high, Verry says. Most often, truckers want to know where they can buy biodiesel. In response to those inquiries, the NBB launched its Biodiesel Hotline in August. Truckers and other consumers can call the hotline-which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week-for information on the retail outlets that carry biodiesel blends.

Fleets Embrace Biodiesel
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) in Ohio went beyond just using a biodiesel blend in its transport buses. TARTA began a three-year study of 48 buses, half of which are being operated with ultra-low sulfur diesel blended with B20.

The study, conducted in partnership with the University of Toledo's Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI), will look at possible emissions reductions, as well as in-bus air quality for passengers-considered the first study of its kind. It will also examine the economic factors, such as how biodiesel will impact engine performance, engine wear and operating costs. "On the surface, you still have a cost penalty for using [B20]," says ITI Director Mark Vonderembse. "It costs more per gallon than diesel [and particularly] ultra-low sulfur diesel. So what we're trying to determine is, are there offsetting savings associated with it, such as extending the life of the vehicle, [or] extending maintenance?"

This fall, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) was recognized by the United Soybean Board for its successful use of biodiesel for more than 10 years. It started with a single vehicle using B100 in Yellowstone National Park. "When we started with that one truck 10 years ago-and it's still running on 100 percent canola [biodiesel]-we envisioned that a decade later, we'd have created niche markets within the region and in the surrounding states," says Yellowstone National Park Environmental Manager Jim Evanoff. "That has pretty much come to fruition. We now have five public biodiesel pumps within the greater Yellowstone area, and we've seen a ripple effect on biodiesel being accepted by other national parks."

Following Yellowstone's lead, more than 50 national parks from Kentucky to Alaska are now using biodiesel blends and even B100. In all, NPS used nearly 84,000 gallons of biodiesel in 2005.

In Indiana, a construction company was using a biodiesel blend to power equipment while building a biodiesel plant. G&G Hauling and Excavating Inc. was using about 1,000 to 1,200 gallons of B2 daily while building a Louis Dreyfus Agricultural Industries LLC, an 80 MMgy biodiesel plant in Claypool, Ind.

Though it was a good fit, Louis Dreyfus didn't require G&G to burn biodiesel. The construction company has been using biodiesel for the past two years.

Manufacturers Encourage Use
There were some exciting commitments made by vehicle manufacturers this year. DaimlerChrysler and Arctic Cat Inc. announced their public support of biodiesel blends in September.

DaimlerChrysler plans to factory-fill B5 in two of its 2007 diesel vehicles. Every 2007 Dodge Ram pickup leaving the Fenton, Mo., assembly plant and Jeep Grand Cherokee common rail diesels with a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine will be filled with a 5 percent biodiesel blend.

This isn't the company's first move to embrace biodiesel. More than 15,000 Jeep Liberty vehicles produced at the Toledo, Ohio, factory were delivered with a B5 blend before the factory-fill was discontinued. DaimlerChrysler also approved B20 for vehicles used in commercial, government and military fleets. Earlier in 2006, DaimlerChrysler became the first automaker in the United States to specifically approve B20 in a warranty position statement. Work to develop a B20 standard is ongoing in partnership with the NBB and other groups.

Not too long before DaimlerChrysler made its September announcement, Arctic Cat said it had completed development of a twin-cylinder diesel all-terrain vehicle (ATV). It was the first of its kind on the market. The Thief River Falls, Minn.-based company is encouraging biodiesel blends in all its ATVs and has developed a fuel tag that recommends biodiesel blends of up to B20.

NBB Trademarks 'Bioheat'
The emerging Bioheat heating oil industry was shored up in early 2006 by the NBB's move to trademark the term for home heating oil blended with biodiesel. A sublicensing agreement was also formed, allowing the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) to use the term, as well.

Bioheat heating oil is blended between B2 and B20 mostly in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Paul Nazzaro, the NBB's director of petroleum affairs, predicted that demand will inevitably rise. "Bioheat is the beginning of a new era for oil heat," he says. "Through the cooperative spirit of the NBB and NORA, the confidence level is very high that we will continue to meet the challenges facing the energy industry. Through efficient combustion technologies, cleaner-burning fuels and a burning desire to sustain market prominence, the new oil heat will be tough to beat."

Though small overall, heating oil represents a huge market opportunity for the biodiesel industry. Only 1 percent of what NORA says is a 7 billion gallon heating oil market represents a total of 7.6 billion gallons of biodiesel, per year. Compared to 1 percent of on-road diesel fuel demand, which would represent 350 MMgy of biodiesel heating oil seems to present a great opportunity. However, to put that into perspective, total production of biodiesel was just 75 MMgy in 2005, Nazzaro pointed out.

Distribution
In a world dominated by petroleum, incorporating biofuels into the fuel system hasn't been easy. As biodiesel capacity swells, it is straining the infrastructure to support blending and transportation of product to the consumer.

However, 2006 was a good growth year for the infrastructure of biodiesel distribution. The number of biodiesel distributors grew in the past 12 months from 1,500 to more than 1,800, according to Amber Thurlo Pearson, communication specialist for the NBB. At press time, there were 36 terminals blending biodiesel nationally, compared with 25 in April.

A growing number of biodiesel producers are now equipped with metered pumps to fill tankers quickly and accurately. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires interstate weight limits and the need for precise measuring of loads. Union County Biodiesel Company LLC, a 5 MMgy plant in Morganfield, Ky., uses the metered pumps, says Plant Manager Andy Sprague, adding that it makes truck load-out a worry-free process that is now a minor operational focal point.

Blending-a major component of distribution-has also become more routine with the use of injection blending. It's the best way to go when possible, says Don Irmen, a North Dakota-based marketing manager for the 12 MMgy West Central plant in Ralston, Iowa. "Splash blending works well if it's done properly, but biodiesel weighs more than regular diesel. If it is not done correctly, [problems can arise]," he told Biodiesel Magazine.

Industry leader Countrymark Co-op, a petroleum refining and marketing company, was the first in the country to have a metered biodiesel facility at its Jolietville, Ind., terminal. The company was also the first to install a fully automated loading system and heated storage tanks, says Countrymark Terminal Manager Dennis Reynolds. "A tanker driver pulls up to the loading racks, selects a product (a specific blend), hooks up the hoses, and the machines do the rest of the work," Reynolds says. "We are pretty much out of splash-blending operations."

Countrymark might have been the first, but fortunately for the biodiesel industry, not the last. More and more, terminals across the United States are putting high-speed biodiesel blending infrastructure in place.

This year, Countrymark helped the biodiesel industry reach a new milestone. The company quietly used its own pipeline for biodiesel transport. In all, 210,000 gallons of B5 traveled through the 238-mile pipeline for 72 hours. It moved without incident from Countrymark's Mount Vernon, Ind., refining complex to a central Indiana terminal, according to Dennis Reynolds, manager of pipeline and terminals for Countrymark. It was the first time a company had announced moving B5 through a pipeline that carries gas, diesel and heating oil, according to Steve Howell, NBB technical director. Though-at this point-it was a one-time test as Countrymark continues to evaluate its options, the NBB considered the test a win all around. "This represents the next step toward full integration of biodiesel into the nation's transport system," Howell says.

Holly Jessen is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her at hjessen@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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