B20: A Ram-Tough Blend

It's been a year since DaimlerChrysler announced its support of B20 for use in 2007 Dodge Ram fleet trucks. Now Biodiesel Magazine speaks with the automaker and Detroit-based nonprofit NextEnergy about how this approval might fit in with the development of an industry-accepted B20 quality standard.
By Ron Kotrba | January 10, 2007
It was a milestone event for the biodiesel industry two years ago when the DaimlerChrysler Group announced it would approve the use of B5 in the Jeep Liberty Common-Rail Diesel, and that the automaker would also factory-fill the light-duty diesel vehicle with B5. It was vindication for those working furiously to get the biodiesel industry off the ground and into the mainstream. It was that point at which biodiesel had arrived, some say.

Last year about this time, DaimlerChrysler made another significant announcement. The automaker proclaimed its endorsement for discretionary public and private fleets' use-or public policies that requisition the use-of B20 in Dodge Ram fleets, while remaining under warranty. On top of that, all new diesel Rams are coming out of the factory with a tankful of B5 this year.

The Ram comes in 1500, 2500 and 3500 series. For 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 or 3500 series trucks, deemed the heavy-duty version compared with the lighter 1500 series, either a 5.7-liter gas-powered Hemi V-8 or a Cummins 5.9-liter diesel-powered inline six-cylinder engine comes standard. The 2007 model gas engine comes available with a flexible-fuel package, meaning it can fuel-up and operate on E85. To sum it up, DaimlerChrysler has both ends of the biofuels spectrum covered.

The biodiesel industry, however, is much less mature and cohesive compared with its distilled-from-corn cousin ethanol. Moreover, different feedstocks used in production give way to alkyl esters of varying properties. The industry-accepted standard for test methods and fuel specifications pertaining to neat biodiesel-ASTM D 6751-is still evolving to better serve the pursuit of quality in this industry, which no one needs to be reminded is paramount. Experts meet relatively frequently to discuss how the standard might need to change in order to more effectively account for quality issues arising in the field.

While the B100 standard is still evolving, a concerted effort is underway to solidify the characteristics of an industrywide 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, in addition to accounting for "unexplainable" phenomena arising out of blending 80 percent diesel with 20 percent biodiesel. For example, results gathered by Cummins (the supplier for Ram's diesel engine) indicated abnormally high amounts of deposits formed at the B20 level. While information gathered from 2007 Ram fleets is expected to aid the development of a B20 standard, those involved seem to think of it more as a figurehead-or even a show of faith-leading the way to wider B20 acceptance, as opposed to an entrenched program designed to amass all of the answers.

Making It Official
"Our goal is to identify a few fleets using B20 that we can track," says Loren Beard, senior manager of fuel legislation, regulation and policy with DaimlerChrysler. Beard says implementing the Ram B5 factory fill and informing customers about B20 sums up what has been done since the auto company's announcement last year. This isn't really a program, though. It doesn't come with a set of rules or guidelines detailing what type of data DaimlerChrysler expects to receive from its participants, or how often. "We're not really monitoring anything or laying out any rules," Beard tells Biodiesel Magazine. "The reality is that people are already using B20 and have been doing so for a decade."

What DaimlerChrysler does recommend for fleet managers who would like, or are required, to use B20 is: that the fuel passes specifications laid out in the standard developed by the military, that the biodiesel be purchased from producers and distributors focused on quality assurance, and that a supplemental fuel filter be used alongside the stock filter found standard in the Dodge Ram. "The [B20] military specification is based on ASTM, plus it includes conditions over and above what ASTM calls for," Beard says. "For one, it says that the fuel must be used up within six months." According to the International Association for Stability, Handling and Use of Liquid Fuels Inc., the military developed its B20 standard-CID A-A-59693 A-in January 2004. "We also recommend they have a water-fuel separator, work with high-quality producers and distributors, and we certainly suggest BQ-9000-certified suppliers," he says.

There are no "costs" for DaimlerChrysler associated with this quasi-program, either. "We'll supply the water-fuel separators out of our dealerships," he says. Beard couldn't say how many fleets have used B20 as a result of the announcement. "We knew since the Energy Policy Act passed [that] there'd be a rising interest," he says.

DaimlerChrysler has surrounded itself with the right partners to develop and implement this B20 standard. "DaimlerChrysler is working with NextEnergy in Detroit on this," Beard says. "We're also working with Bosch, Delphi, Ford and Biodiesel Industries to develop this standard, with a goal to have one in place or agreed upon by the end of 2007."

Bosch, maker of the common-rail fuel injection system, is concerned about higher-level blends of biodiesel like B20, mainly due to the increasing pressures under which fuel gets sprayed into the cylinders and how biodiesel-not necessarily off-spec-might foul up injector nozzles over time. Nevertheless, Tom Livingston, senior engineering representative of Bosch, said after the late-spring 2006 Biodiesel Summit held at NextEnergy's Center in Detroit's Tech Town: "We're optimistic that a prudent B20 ASTM spec [will be] developed cooperatively by the fuel and manufacturing equipment industries."

Beard tells Biodiesel Magazine that DaimlerChrysler hears from Bosch "all the time" on the use of B20 in Dodge Ram fleets and, hence, Bosch's injectors. "Bosch does endorse the use of B5," he says. "It didn't back the use of B20, but it's not opposed to it either."

Broader Work, Intentions
NextEnergy, a nonprofit group, was founded in 2002 and focuses on the commercialization of energy technologies that contribute to economic competitiveness, increase U.S. energy security and benefit the environment. "At NextEnergy, we have a program that we're facilitating with DaimlerChrysler and a number of other companies to help facilitate a faster acceleration of a B20 standard," says Jim Saber, director of program development at NextEnergy. "We started with the Department of Energy on this objective prior to the DaimlerChrysler announcement on Ram fleets. Funding for this particular project-developing a B20 standard-is in large part coming from the energy department. Other programs NextEnergy is involved with are supported by the Department of Defense, private companies, philanthropic organizations and individuals."

Even though DaimlerChrysler and NextEnergy are working toward this aim together, one didn't necessarily cause the other to act. "Our program isn't designed to be specifically for Ram trucks," says Saber, who adds that automakers like DaimlerChrysler are serious about developing a B20 standard because they need a specification to design equipment against. "The goal, as we see it from an industry standpoint, is that the [original equipment manufacturers] aren't able to warranty vehicles using B20 because there isn't a standard for B20. NextEnergy believes if we have an industry-accepted ASTM standard specifically for B20, there'd be greater opportunity as a whole in the North American market for biodiesel and diesel vehicles, too."

According to Beard, one task the auto group hopes to learn from this endeavor is the ability to correlate the stability of B20 and that of B100. "We see stability as one of biodiesel's biggest problems," Beard says. "There are additives for that though."

DaimlerChrysler's endorsement of B20 in Dodge Rams is a step toward a B20 standard. "It's a big step," Saber says. "DaimlerChrysler is saying, 'Here's a blend of B20 we will support.' It's a very big starting point." NextEnergy is committed to this work, gaining a better knowledge base and understanding to develop this standard-to do it right, Saber says. "From a business standpoint, if we have a strong standard, we can really grow this industry," he says.

Ron Kotrba is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or (701) 746-8385.
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