B20 performance matches diesel in Iowa

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 17, 2008
First-year results are in for the Two-Million-Mile Haul, a two-year B20 study in commercial long-haul trucks being operated by Decker Truck Line Inc. "We are pleased with the results to date," said Don Heck, coordinator of the biotechnology and biofuels programs at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He is collecting and analyzing the data in the study, which is tracking 20 matched trucks running matched routes in the Decker fleet, half running on B20 blends and half using regular diesel.

"Preliminary results are that B20 performs similarly to 100 percent diesel," Heck said. "We found a slight decrease in overall fuel efficiency for the B20 group, but it was not statistically significant. In fact, the difference was several times smaller than the driver-to-driver variability in fuel efficiency within each group." More than 1.5 million miles were logged by the end of the first year, from Oct. 1, 2006, to Oct. 1, 2007.

Winter driving resulted in relatively few problems regarding cold-flow issues. Fuel for both groups was treated with a commercial fuel additive, and a 40 percent blend of No. 1 diesel was used by both groups for a brief time during a severe cold snap in February. No drivers experienced fuel gelling problems. However, early in the study, filter-plugging problems occurred in the trucks using the B20 blend. After changes were made in blending in early February, the rate of filter plugging for the B20 group dropped significantly. "We are continuing to investigate the causes of filter plugging that occurred last winter," Heck said. The residue that plugged one of the filters was analyzed and didn't match any compounds found in the soy-based B100 or resulting B20 blend. "We have been testing various blends of B20 with No. 1 diesel and cold flow additives in the laboratory, and will use this information for the 2007-2008 winter driving season," Heck said. "Although the filter residue was not positively identified, we do not believe it is the result of poor fuel quality."

In addition, engine oil tests showed no difference between the B20 and diesel groups. At the conclusion of the study, engines from both groups will be inspected for a closer analysis of engine wear.

The two-year study is sponsored by the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Central Community College, Decker Truck Line Inc., Caterpillar Inc., the National Biodiesel Board, Renewable Energy Group Inc. and the USDA. The study is believed to be the first comprehensive, publicly documented demonstration of B20 in over-the-road trucks.

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