North Carolina, biodiesel: Partners in success

By | May 01, 2006
Perhaps one of the most under-recognized biofuels states in the country is North Carolina. However, with the Tar Heel State's stout legislative mandates calling for an increased use of biodiesel in state-owned diesel fleets, and state-funded research grants for various renewable fuels projects, North Carolina's blossoming commitment to biofuels is exemplary.

Aiding in this trend is North Carolina's "Research Triangle"-anchored by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill-where biodiesel emissions testing in on- and off-road diesel applications is underway. Anne Tazewell, North Carolina State University's (NCSU) Alternative Fuels Program Manager at the school's Solar Center-the name of which will soon be changed to the Center for Energy Innovation-said ongoing B20 emissions testing was originally requested by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
According to Bruce Thompson, NCDOT manager of specifications and procurement, the department has been using biodiesel for some time. Thompson said the NCDOT's interest in B20 emissions testing was sparked by curiosity. The department wanted to know what biodiesel emissions profiles would be in real-world operating conditions as opposed to accepting the U.S. EPA's static data collected from engine dynamometer tests. With funding from the NCDOT's research and development arm, the NCDOT enlisted assistance from NCSU and Professor Chris Frey.

Phase One consisted of testing eight tandem and single-axle dump trucks using portable five-gas analyzers in actual-duty cycles to gauge the differences in outlet gases between B20 and low-sulfur diesel (LSD) fuel, Tazewell and Thompson told Biodiesel Magazine. Results of the tests confirmed the NCDOT's hunch that B20 positively impacts exhaust emissions from diesel tailpipes. Among the expected reductions in carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and particulate matter, results showed an unexpected 10 percent decrease in nitric oxide (NO) compared to LSD. These NO reductions counter the EPA's engine dynamometer emissions results, which indicate that biodiesel blends increase NOx output. However, the emissions-testing tide nationwide seems to be moving away from engine dynamometer tests-as the NCSU-DOT study has done-to more accurately reflect real-world speed and load conditions of various diesel vehicles, not just long-haul trucks.

Thompson said the NCDOT is now in Phase Two of the project: the testing of B20 in off-road equipment. The tests will compare B20 with diesel fuel in equipment like front-end loaders in actual, rather than staged, duty cycles.

"The future of biodiesel is very bright here in North Carolina," Thompson told Biodiesel Magazine. "We see more interest in building plants here, and farmers are getting more interested in soybeans." Thompson said as time goes on and petroleum prices rise, North Carolina and the NCDOT are looking toward biodiesel as that "something" needed to curb petroleum dependence and help clear those southern skies.
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