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Canadian trucking industry voices concerns over biodiesel mandates

A federal mandate that will force biodiesel upon the Canadian trucking industry is causing great concern about maintenance and warranty implications.

A federal mandate that will force biodiesel upon the Canadian trucking industry is causing great concern about maintenance and warranty implications.

The federal requirement, which will be implemented sometime between 2010 and 2012, will require diesel to contain a minimum of 2% biofuel. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) recently suggested the requirement could cause engine problems, cold weather operability issues, and clashes between truck owners and engine manufacturers over warranties.

“The engine manufacturers have not, and cannot provide assurances that biodiesel will not expose the Canadian trucking industry to engine problems, increased costs, and possibly the voiding of engine warranties,” CTA CEO David Bradley recently asserted.

The CTA is most concerned about an “averaging provision” in the rules that would require on-road diesel to contain, on average, 2% biofuels. He’s concerned that in some cases, the blend will be far greater, exceeding levels approved by engine OEMs.

The averaging provision “will no doubt force the biofuel content sold in on-road diesel well above the B2 range, into B5 and higher levels,” charged Bradley. “Under the averaging approach, the business interests of biodiesel producers and the petroleum industry all have some level of protection.”

However, he said truck owners may be left in the cold if they encounter engine problems related to biodiesel use, pointing out most engine manufacturers provide no assurances that anything above a B5 (5% biofuel blend) would be harmless.

Specifically, the CTA worries that pre-2002 model year engines are susceptible to damage from high blends of biodiesel. That accounts for about 62% of the Canadian heavy-duty truck population. Newer equipment is more biodiesel-friendly, Bradley noted, provide it’s manufactured and blended to high quality standards.

But in Canada, that’s a big ‘if.’ Compliance with a recently-formed American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) quality standard dubbed BQ9000 is strictly voluntary in Canada.

In B. C., concerns about the government-mandated use of biodiesel are even greater. That’s because the province has taken its mandate a step further, requiring the provincial diesel pool to contain at least 5% biodiesel by January, 2010.

The controversial Renewable Fuel Regulation (RFR) has been disputed by the B. C. Trucking Association (BCTA), which shares many of the CTA’s concerns.

The BCTA is particularly concerned about biodiesel quality and supply, and about fuel system and mechanical problems that may arise as a result of its members “unwittingly” using biodiesel blends greater than B5.

“Important warranty issues aside, blends of greater than 5% will put both commercial vehicle drivers and other road users in potentially perilous circumstances, and will contribute to costly and unhealthy congestion and delays as stalled diesel-powered vehicles block roads and bridges,” warned BCTA president Paul Landry, in a recent letter to the B. C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

While the BCTA is confident suppliers will do their best to provide quality blends not exceeding 5%, Landry said “regardless of their best intentions” some customers will likely end up putting higher blends in their fuel tanks.

“The biodiesel industry is portraying a problem-free transition to B5, by sugar-coating significant problems experienced in other jurisdictions,” pointed out Landry. “They claim that they have the support of the engine manufacturers, in spite of assertions from those very manufacturers that high biodiesel blends are problematic. The biodiesel industry’s reckless disregard of the facts will do a disservice to an otherwise worthy enterprise.”

Blending practices are another source of concern for the trucking industry. An “in-line” blending process is favoured by suppliers, but a lack of proper facilities and “voluntary” compliance with blending standards means the less reliable “splash blending” is still commonplace, trucking associations have warned. Splash blending leads to an even greater likelihood that biofuel content will be inconsistent, with a high likelihood that a blend much greater than 5% could find its way into your diesel tank.

If that does happen, truckers could encounter reliability issues such as clogged fuel filters – especially in cold weather. But biodiesel proponents point to the recent Alberta Renewable Diesel Demonstration Project as proof that bio-blends are safe to use – even in frigid Canadian temperatures. The test, conducted in partnership with the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (CPPI) showed that biodiesel blends of B2 can be safely used all winter without causing maintenance issues.

The CTA’s Bradley was quick to point out new engine technologies, which will be rolled out in 2010 have yet to be tested under those conditions.

“All the demonstration program showed us, is that blended properly and manufactured to appropriate standards, biodiesel blends at B2 or less can be operated in Canadian winter conditions by most (but not necessarily all) heavy truck engines up to the 2007 model year,” countered Bradley. “Only the consumer, in this case the trucking industry, will remain exposed – unless the regulatory approach to the mandate addresses our key concerns. Being told by the biodiesel producers that we can sue them if their product is not of sufficient quality to work in our engines is of no solace. The industry comprises of thousands of small companies who will not have the resources to launch such action, nor should they have to be put in this position.”

Ken Fryer, a biodiesel advocate and director of Clean Air Solutions for 4Refuel Canada, said he feels biodiesel is being unfairly criticized. When manufactured and blended to industry standards, he said it’s perfectly safe to use and won’t cause any maintenance issues.

Fryer said only one engine manufacturer doesn’t recognize a blend higher than B5, and he says it could prove costly for them.

“I believe that just may limit their market share, if they can’t recognize a higher blend,” he told Truck News. He also said local dealers are often responsible for spreading misconceptions about biodiesel and that the OEMs are less resistant to its use.

Local dealers don’t have a “good handle on what’s going on,” he said.

As far as cold weather operability is concerned, Fryer said manufacturers can address “cloud point” issues by simply adding more kerosene at the refinery.

“It does have cloud point issues, but you manage that. You (use) a winter grade diesel fuel, which lowers the cloud point significantly. What it means is, big oil has to put more kerosene in the fuel in order to get it to have a lower cloud point,” he explained.

He admits oil companies must take extra care when blending biofuels, since biodiesel is “less forgiving” than conventional diesel.

“If there’s water in their tanks, or if there’s micro-biological growth in their tanks, biodiesel will break that down – and low and behold it will expose all the foibles related to storage of fuel,” he said.

Overall, Fryer is disappointed the Canadian trucking industry is resisting a fuel that he said will deliver substantial environmental benefits. In the US, the American Trucking Associations is supportive of a 5% blend across the board, he pointed out. Here at home, Fryer would like to see biodiesel more warmly embraced by the trucking industry.

“I believe it is a lack of knowledge and understanding, and I believe in some cases a lack of desire to do the right thing in terms of reducing greenhouse gases and cleaning up our environment,” he said. “Recent discussions in Ottawa have indicated that engine manufacturers do recognize a B5 blend, so meeting a federal or a provincial mandate does not seem that onerous.”

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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