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Editor's Note

We've put the spotlight on fleets, B20 spec this month
By Tom Bryan | January 10, 2007
From the United States to Brazil to Germany, the vast majority of vehicle fleets are diesel powered. Military vehicles, commercial trucks, government and privately owned buses you name it-the diesel engine is, hands down, the workhorse of the world's ground transport sector.

Likewise, fleets make up the diesel industry's core market. So it makes perfect sense that the biodiesel industry would try to establish a strong following within that nucleus. In the United States, that tactic has been employed-effectively so-by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and other biodiesel advocacy groups. Unlike Europe, where light-duty diesel passenger vehicles rule the road, the bulk of diesel-powered vehicles in the United States consists of trucks, buses, and off-road vehicles like agricultural and construction equipment. That means "getting in" with fleet managers-really getting them on our side-is vitally important to the U.S. biodiesel effort.

In this issue, the Biodiesel Magazine editorial staff provides a few snapshots of how biodiesel is being used in fleet operations both domestically and abroad. Our coverage starts with an up-front look at how the U.S. military is using biodiesel blends-and how a trickle down effects of the nation's military campaign in the Middle East has ironically made it more difficult for the armed forces to obtain domestically produced biodiesel at home. While the funding is tight, the biodiesel supplies are not. There's now a healthy number of U.S. biodiesel suppliers bidding on military contracts through the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), one of the largest purchasers of biodiesel in the world, and acceptance of the renewable fuel among fleet managers and other military personnel is on the rise.

On a related note, the heightened profile of B20 now seems inextricably linked to U.S. vehicle fleets, both government and commercial. The military has been doing its part in working with the NBB and ASTM officials, as well as original equipment manufacturers, to develop an ASTM spec for B20. The military developed its own B20 standard in 2004. As has been reported in this magazine on numerous occasions, an ASTM spec for B20 is needed by the fuel and auto industries for certification and warranty purposes. As the industry works to that end, support-albeit qualified support-continues to come from various industry players. Ford Motor Co., for example, recommends the use of nothing higher than B5 in its diesel-powered vehicles. The automaker says its stance is consistent with the standards set down by the World Wide Fuel Charter, a compilation of fuel quality requirements endorsed by U.S., Japanese, European and other engine and vehicle manufacturers. Don't think Ford is a biodiesel hater, though. The automaker is actually in the process of evaluating and researching vehicle designs and requirements needed to run vehicles on B20. So it seems as though even those resisting higher biodiesel blends are almost anticipating the wider acceptance of them.

DaimlerChrysler, on the other hand, isn't waiting around to see what happens. The automaker recently proclaimed its endorsement of the use of B20 in its new vehicles used in public and private fleet applications. At the same time, all new diesel Dodge Rams are being factory-filled with B5. As reported in this month's page 54 feature, "B20: A Ram Tough Blend," while the B100 standard is still evolving, a concerted effort is underway to solidify the characteristics of an industry-wide B20 standard. Such a standard would have to pull in parts of petroleum diesel fuel's quality standard-ASTM D 975-plus the neat biodiesel D 6751 standard. For the time being, DaimlerChrysler is recommending that fleets use B20 that meets the military standard. In the meantime, DaimlerChrysler is working with Detroit-based NextEnergy-as well as Bosch, Delphi, Ford and Biodiesel Industries-to develop an ASTM spec for B20 by the end of the year.

Those who are involved with this effort are confident it's the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. Collaborations between the fuel, auto and equipment manufacturing industries are not too common-or easily carried out-and the U.S. biodiesel industry should consider it a small victory to have simply gotten this important effort on a fast track.

Tom Bryan
Editorial Director
tbryan@bbibiofuels.com
 

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