Small-Engine Ingenuity

All-terrain vehicles have served off-road needs on the farm for years. Now a new product from Arctic Cat Inc. will give farmers the opportunity to fuel these workhorses with biodiesel produced from the soybeans they grow. It also gives the renewable fuel an opportunity to prove its worth to small-engine manufacturers.
By Nicholas Zeman | November 01, 2007
At the 2007 National Biodiesel Conference, Arctic Cat Inc., the Thief River Falls, Minn., manufacturer of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), presented a product it had just started marketing: the 700 Super Duty Diesel ATV. With a glow-plug preheater assist for starting, it's evident that the 4-by-4 is designed for cold-weather performance. What could be better for biodiesel's reputation as a winter fuel than an endorsement from a company that makes cold-weather machines?

Because this unit is the first and only diesel-powered ATV available on the commercial market, Arctic Cat had to go through a rigorous period of testing and development. First, the company had to incorporate a diesel engine, which is usually big and heavy, that would be small enough and light enough for an ATV. Also, because Arctic Cat planned to market the vehicle to the military, it had to ensure that it could perform admirably in harsh conditions using a number of different fuels, including biodiesel. Arctic Cat's promotion of diesel-powered ATVs, which are approved for B20 use, is good news for biodiesel and should make skeptics more comfortable with wintertime use of the fuel.

As Arctic Cat was testing its new product, it discovered that the renewable fuel burned cleaner than conventional diesel and had added lubricity. Even in cold-start testing procedures, the company actually found an increase in revolutions per minute (rpm). "We expected that this was because of the added lubricity biodiesel provides," says Craig Kennedy, an engineer for Artic Cat who was involved in the development of the diesel ATV. "It did carry more rpms and performed similarly to No.1 diesel, in regard to cold running."

The positive results generated by Arctic Cat's testing were contrary to some of the information the company received when it began working with biodiesel. Over the past year or two, the quality of methyl esters has increased significantly, Kennedy says. Some of the initial inconsistencies in quality could have caused some of the bad assessments of biodiesel, he adds. Lombardini USA Inc., a diesel engine manufacturer in Duluth, Ga., provided Arctic Cat with some data from its own tests with biodiesel that contained less than glowing recommendations. "Our results were quite positive," Kennedy says. "Our vehicle was less affected in terms of power and fuel consumption, than we initially expected."

The 700 Diesel ATV is equipped with a 686 cubic centimeters (cc) (0.6 liter), inline-two-cylinder diesel made by Lombardini. The LDW 702 diesel engine features a 3,600-rpm redline that is usually used in stationary applications. In the Arctic Cat ATV, the engine's fuel is supplied by a Bosch indirect-injection mechanical system. The 145-pound unit is rated at 17.81 horsepower and 30 pound-foot of torque. At 823 pounds, the whole ATV weighs about 110 pounds more than the 700 cubic centimeters gasoline version, has an impressive 1,050-pound towing capacity and comes standard with a 2-inch receiver hitch.

On-Farm Use
Arctic Cat tested the new ATV on biodiesel, with help from Minnesota's Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA). Michael Sparby, project development director of AURI's office in Morris, Minn., says that because of the strong recreational vehicle manufacturing presence in Minnesota, he made a cold call to Thief River Falls on behalf of biodiesel, and as it happened, Arctic Cat was developing the 700 Super Duty. "The military and European markets were the impetus for the development of this unit," Sparby says. Because farmers are major users of ATVs, they were a target customer for the Artic Cat product as well. Europeans are considered a major market for the ATVs because diesel-powered vehicles are more common in Europe than in the United States. "That's absolutely right," Kennedy says. "In Europe, the ability to rely on one fuel source is extremely important. It costs huge amounts of money to have gasoline on the farm, sometimes as high as $8-per-gallon. Diesel fuel also has a huge bonus potential because its fuel mileage performance is 32 percent greater than gasoline."

MSGA and AURI's missions are to identify projects and find new uses for agricultural products. Both believe that cold weather shouldn't stand in the way of customers relying on biodiesel in the winter months. Mike Youngerberg, a spokesman for MSGA, says that there are issues with the use of conventional diesel fuel from Maine to Montana during cold snaps. Nevertheless, biodiesel has received undeserved blame for fuel gelling problems when traditional diesel has had problems for many, many years. Also, undesirable microbes can flourish in ultra low sulfur diesel, so biodiesel may have been a scapegoat for problems with that new petroleum product as well. "There were plenty of people with all kinds of opinions," Kennedy says. "There were a number of people around [Thief River Falls] in the ag community who felt like some of the early stuff maybe wasn't up to snuff." This year however, there has been no talk of fuel quality issues so farmers shouldn't be worried about using biodiesel in their equipment.

For on-farm use, ATVs have become a staple. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service reports that by the mid-1980s the ATV was finding several different uses on the farm. In many operations it proved to be an efficient and economical substitute for pickups, horses, tractors and walking. "It's one of those things you can't figure out how you managed without it once you got one," says Jim Brown, an Iowa farmer who runs an operation about 90 miles northwest of Des Moines. While his ATV is gasoline powered, Brown uses biodiesel in his tractors and trucks. "Anything that uses renewable resources we should be using," says Brown of Artic Cat's new ATV. "We should be doing everything we can to promote ourselves." While he can't be sure where all of his crops end up, Brown says his soybeans probably go to Western Iowa Energy LLC, in Wall Lake, Iowa. "It just makes sense to use our own products," he says.

ATVs can now be found on all types of farms, and in the forest. Specifically, the ATV is ideally suited for use with Arctic Cat's line of SPEEDPoint farming and landscaping attachments, making the machine highly functional and versatile across a broad range of applications. ATVs are used to check on crops and livestock, inspect and repair irrigation systems and fence lines, supervise field crews, herd livestock, mark timber, seed, fertilize and apply chemicals, mow grass, move dirt and transport things from here to there and back again. The uses are unlimited. "We use them to check cows, get out to the tractors, or ride a quarter mile so we don't have to start the pickups for all kinds of things," Brown says. "Plus we have four boys who love to ride them."

Farmers are buying the new diesel-powered ATV and are impressed with its performance, Arctic Cat says. "There's been nothing but rave reviews for this product," Youngerberg says. "It's an extremely small market for biodiesel, but one that should not be ignored. The farmers, who grow the soybeans to make biodiesel, should be using the fuel on the farm too."

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