With the push for cleaner burning Alternative Fuels, Bio-diesel has become an ever more popular source of fuel for motor vehicles, especially in the commercial transportation industry. In essence, biodiesel is a fuel with very similar characteristics as regular diesel fuel. The main difference is that rather than being refined from crude oil, bio-diesel is produced by refining renewable sources, mainly animal and vegetable fat/oil. An entire industry has been created for the direct supply of raw materials to bio energy production plants, with vast amounts of crops like corn and rape seed being produced for this very purpose.
There are many biodiesel fuel advantages including environmental impacts through lower CO2 emissions. But for a commercial truck driver environmental factors are not necessarily the primary reason to switch to a renewable fuel source. There are economic advantages as well that can have a very positive effect on operating costs. However, these have to be offset by some disadvantages that many people in the bio energy industry do not highlight as much as they should be.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what makes a fuel “Biodiesel” and cover the various advantages and disadvantages of using this fuel in the commercial trucking field.
What is Biodiesel Exactly?
Biodiesel is a renewable energy solution that is derived from substances like restaurant or diner grease, plant oils, animal fats and food-oil byproducts. Since the ignition / compression ratio for these bio-fuels are similar to that of petroleum-based diesel, biodiesel’s chemistry allow it be used in most diesel engines with little or no modifications.
Although the ignition properties are similar to standard diesel, biodiesel burns much cleaner. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, biodiesels can significantly reduce the emissions of ozone-depleting compounds such as carbon monoxide, sulfates, polycyclic aromatic, and nitrated polycyclic aromatic. Additionally biodiesel emissions are safer to breathe as particulate matter from exhaust has shown to be significantly reduced.
Biodiesel is available in the United States as a blend with standard diesel in a number of concentrations up to 100% biodiesel. These include:
- 100 – 100% Biodiesel
- B20 – 80% Petroleum-based diesel fuel, 20% Biodiesel
- B5 – 95% Petroleum-based diesel fuel, 5% Biodiesel
- B2 – 98% Petroleum-based diesel fuel, 22% Biodiesel
B20 is considered the most common blend for use in North America and can now be found at most truck fueling locations in the United States. For an updated map of bio-fuel ready stations, check out this Bio-Diesel Retail Location Finder.
The Advantages of Biodiesel
1 – No Engine Reconfiguration
A standard Diesel engine will be suitable to run on bio diesel without any reconfiguration or modification. This means that you do not have to go through significant expenses and time off the road just to get ready for a switch to Biodiesel. However, you should check your vehicle’s warranty to see whether using alternative Diesel fuels will affect or void it.
2 – Engine Operation
Diesel engines by their design are fully reliant on the fuel for lubrication of internal engine parts and components. Without this lubrication the engine will very quickly deteriorate leading to reduced performance and eventually breakdowns.
Biodiesel has the fundamental characteristic of providing more lubricity than even standard Diesel fuel can provide. This is due to fuel regulations that gradually led to lower levels of lubricity in crude oil based diesel.
3 – Fuel Economy
Another one of the biodiesel fuel advantages is that you will see an increase in fuel economy. This means that you can save up to 30% on fuel intake, which means less stops for refilling and you can reduce one of the major operating costs of running a commercial truck.
1 – Low Temperature Environments
If you drive your truck in very cold temperatures then Biodiesel may not be the best solution. Dependent on the renewable raw material used in the refining process the fuel will gel at low temperatures which can cause significant engine problems. You can opt for a blend of biodiesel and winterized standard diesel fuel, but for the coldest months of the year it is probably best to avoid it.
2 – Clogging Of Filters
While biodiesel is a great lubricant and cleans harmful particles from the inner parts of the engine, this does result in diesel particle filters becoming clogged more often than they otherwise would. These filters will require more regular replacement and this can add to down time and maintenance costs.
3 – Quality Variation
Because the input material is sourced from different biofuel crops and locations there can be a significant variance in the quality. This can result in different levels of engine performance and therefore different levels of fuel economy. Buying from a reputable and large refining company can ensure a more stable level of quality over time.
The Jury’s Out on Biodiesel
What commercial drivers have to do is weigh the biodiesel fuel advantages against the disadvantages to see whether it makes economic and commercial sense to switch fuel types. The more fuel you use the more savings are available on your fuel bill. However, the increase in maintenance costs and potential added downtime has to be offset against those fuel economy gains.