TORONTO, Ont. – The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture is gearing up to make an announcement about the government’s plans for bringing in biodiesel blends.
But the move, originally promised by the McGuinty government during the last election campaign, has trucking industry insiders worried the cost will outweigh the benefits.
“There are reasons for concern,” says Stephen Laskowski, assistant vice-president for the Ontario Trucking Association.
“The first is whether the biodiesel blend will work with the new and existing engines. The second, and it’s a big one, is the cost – if Ontario goes to a mandatory biodiesel blend it will create a fuel island in North Eastern America – every other province and state will have low sulfur diesel, which will mean that Ontario will have to have its fuel trucked or railed in, instead of pumped through pipelines. That means we’ll be facing boutique fuel prices, and that means fuel prices that are one and a half to two times the cost they are now.”
According to Laskowski, the cost may outweigh the benefits, especially when it comes to the new ’07 engines, which produce virtually no nitrous oxides (NOx). In fact, according to several studies, biodiesel has been shown to actually increase these emissions (while reducing particulate matter, carbon monoxide and total hydrocarbons – all of which are also reduced using ultra low sulfur fuel in the newer engines).
“As concentration of biodiesel increased, the oxides of nitrogen emissions increased,” says a study by the Society of Automotive Engineers titled “Engine Exhaust Emissions Evaluation of a Cummins L10E When Fueled With a Biodiesel Blend.”
Not to say that biodiesel blends couldn’t work, but that the current method of biodiesel adoption the government seems to be pushing for the trucking mode, which is already in the throes of adopting clean fuel burning technologies across North America, never mind Europe, might not be the best course of action, says Laskowski.
“We’re recommending the government consider adopting the biodiesel blend initiative for other freight modes, such as rail and air, which are already largely unregulated when it comes to fuel and emissions,” he says.
Engine manufacturers, for their part, are weighing in on the issue with caution. Suffice it to say that biodiesel use is not currently covered under any of their engine warranties.
In a press FAQ published by Cummins, the company makes clear that while it supports and funds research and development for alternative fuels, it will not cover damages caused by any fuels that are not spec’d for its engines.
“Any engine failure or performance issue caused by the use of biodiesel or other fuel additives cannot be considered as defects of the Cummins engine, components, or workmanship – and would therefore not be covered by Cummins warranty,” says the company.
That said, Cummins officials do believe their current as well as their ’07 engines are capable of using a biodiesel blend. But, “the B5 biodiesel fuel (that’s five per cent biodiesel mixed with regular diesel) used with our 2007 engines will need to conform to the same 15 PPM sulfur content as the ultra-low sulfur fuel (the engines were designed for) to ensure there is no adverse affect on the diesel particulate filtre aftertreatment.”
Caterpillar has similar reservations when it comes to the use of biodiesel blends in its engines.
“We neither endorse nor pro- hibit the use of biodiesel fuels in our engines,” says company spokesman Jason Phelps. “However, there are many biodiesel blends in the market and no federal or world standard. Since we can’t predict the impact on engine performance we caution our customers to research biodiesel blends before using the fuel. “
Volvo and Mack are singing a slightly, but only slightly, more positive tune.
While Mack engines are approved for B2 to B5 biodiesel blends, according to Mack spokesman John Walsh, there are still concerns about biodiesel stability, especially when it comes to cold weather operation. Ditto for Volvo, which is already researching another alternative fuel in Europe, called dimethylether, which is produced from biomass and other residual products from pulp and paper production.
In other words, there’s a whole lot of technology to consider before you start cutting your diesel with used vegetable oil.
So why the big rush to get Ontario on the biodiesel bandwagon?
The answer, at least according to some industry insiders, is purely political.
“You’ve got to ask yourself why, with the new engines and low sulfur fuel coming next fall, there has to be this move to biodiesel, especially when the costs seem to outweigh the benefits,” says Laskowski.
“And you’ve got to wonder why the government has the Ministry of Agriculture working on this, when it would normally appear to be an initiative for the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of Energy.”
Indeed, if anyone benefits from the biodiesel initiative it will be rural Ontario and its farmers, a fact that does not escape Laskowski’s attention, nor doubtless, the attention of the McGuinty government.
“My guess is that if the government brings out the biodiesel blend legislation it will be before the next election,” says Laskowski.
The only question that remains is whether the trucking industry will be willing to pay for the government’s courtship of rural Ontario.
The Ministry of Agriculture, for its part, says it is aware of trucking concerns.
“The decision to go with B2 or B5 has not been made yet,” says Ministry of Agriculture spokeswoman Suzanne Van Bommel. “At this point in time we’re still consulting with industry. But concerns about transportation and manufacturing have been raised.”