Photo caption: Steve Howell, senior technical adviser for the National Biodiesel Board, emphasized the industry’s investment in ongoing research to improve biodiesel quality and performance.

Special to FMN by: Karen Potratz

After more than 25 years of successful use in diesel vehicles, biodiesel still faces misconceptions about its production and use.

To dispel these myths, the Greater Chicago I-55 Truck Plaza in Bolingbrook, Illinois, recently hosted a workshop for municipal and commercial fleet managers and fuel retailers to hear the latest updates on biodiesel. The event, Truck Stop Coffee Talk: The Truth About Biodiesel, was co-sponsored by Chicago Area Clean Cities (CACC) and the B20 Club, a partnership between the American Lung Association and the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) that recognizes fleets committed to running vehicles and equipment on fuel blends of B20—20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel—or higher.

“The biodiesel industry has led a continuous evolution in biodiesel ASTM fuel standards to address OEM and end user concerns,” said Steve Howell of M4 Consulting, senior technical advisor for the National Biodiesel Board.

Since 2001, ASTM D6751 is the approved legal standard for B100 or “pure” biodiesel that can be blended with diesel fuel at any percentage. ASTM D7467 is the standard for blends of B6 to B20.

Howell pointed out that ASTM fuel standards for biodiesel include 20 different specifications—compared with 13 criteria for regular diesel. Biodiesel specifications cover sulfur content, cloud point, flash point, glycerin content, visual appearance, oxidation stability, cold soak filterability and other criteria to ensure proper performance.

Howell encouraged fuel retailers and biodiesel users to adhere to the BQ-9000 fuel quality program administered by the National Biodiesel Accreditation Commission. “Ninety percent of biodiesel producers are now part of this voluntary program, which involves a yearly audit to ensure compliance with industry standards,” he said.

Other takeaways from the Truck Stop Coffee Talk event:

  • Biodiesel improves diesel properties. “With 11 percent oxygen content, biodiesel has higher lubricity for better engine performance and has higher cetane content for a smoother, more complete burn. It has a cetane value of 50 compared to 40 for petroleum diesel. And the fuel economy is the same,” Howell said. In addition, Howell said biodiesel has zero aromatics compared with 35 percent aromatics in regular diesel fuel, making biodiesel less toxic and cleaner burning. Containing virtually zero sulfur, biodiesel meets ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) limits of 15 ppm or less.
  • Biodiesel is an easy way to cut carbon emissions. No special vehicles nor engine modifications are needed to convert fleets from diesel to biodiesel blends. “Transportation is now the number one source of CO2 emissions in the United States. Biodiesel is the easiest way for diesel-powered fleets to reduce their carbon footprints immediately without purchasing alternative vehicles or technologies,” said Bailey Arnold, senior manager of clean air initiatives at the American Lung Association.

Pete Probst, biodiesel specialist, demonstrated use of a Bacon Bomb device to take samples from fuel storage tanks.

Arnold pointed out that biodiesel has proven life cycle carbon reductions of more than 80 percent on average over regular diesel fuel—and calculations by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) show that it is well below the average carbon footprint of electricity produced in the United States.

  • Biodiesel reduces risk and protects health. Biodiesel is recognized as a Clean Air Choice® by the American Lung Association for its proven reductions of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide, added Arnold. “Biodiesel is the only fuel to complete the Tier I and Tier II health effects testing requirements under the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990. Testing provided conclusive scientific evidence that biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegradable, posing no threat to human health,” he said.
  • Biodiesel can be a scapegoat for other fuel problems. Pete Probst, a biodiesel specialist representing ISA, reviewed best practices for biodiesel fuel storage and handling to ensure operational success.

“With any fuel, including biodiesel, it’s important to keep water out of storage tanks to prevent microbe growth,” Probst said. “If not properly maintained, fuel storage tanks run the risk of water contamination that can decimate fuel quality. A faulty $3 seal could cause thousands of dollars of fuel quality losses.”

Probst encouraged fuel retailers to inspect their fuel storage systems monthly, and have a lab analyze their fuels at least annually. Using a Bacon Bomb device to gather samples from the tank bottom and then taking steps to remove any water, sediment and microbes found in the tank are the first steps to ensure a successful fueling operation.

The Truck Stop Coffee Talk workshop is part of ongoing educational efforts by CACC and its partners to promote use of domestic fuels like biodiesel. “Alongside the B20 Club, we’re dedicated to teaching fleets how to implement sustainable and more environmentally friendly fuels, saving energy, saving money and providing residents with cleaner air,” says John Walton, chair of CACC.