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MATS Report: Trucking companys study fuels biodiesel advancement

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Dale Decker found out about biodiesel several years ago. The more he learned, the more he wanted...

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dale Decker found out about biodiesel several years ago. The more he learned, the more he wanted to try it.

Decker is a third-generation trucker in the family business, which started in 1931 with one Model B Ford truck. Since then, the Fort Dodge, Iowa-based Decker Truck Line has grown to more than 700 trucks and more than 1,400 trailers, with nine terminals in five states.

I appreciate the fact that biodiesel provides support for American farmers as a home grown fuel, said Decker, Industry and Government Relations Director for Decker Truck Line.

He also said the added lubricity biodiesel provides would help meet fuel lubricity requirements when used with the newly mandated Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD).

Decker Truck Line is the first major trucking company to compare a soy biodiesel B20 blend to regular diesel in a comprehensive over-the-road test covering two million miles. Announced last fall, the Two Million Mile Haul has covered 350,000 miles towards the goal.

Partners released interim results during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. on March 21. In addition to Decker, partners in the Two Million Mile Haul include the Iowa Soybean Association, National Biodiesel Board (NBB), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Iowa Central Community College and Renewable Energy Group.

Decker says so far he has seen substantial benefits.

What weve observed so far is great performance in the particularly cold winter we just experienced, and reduced maintenance and engine wear benefits that equal or outweigh the slightly higher cost of the biodiesel blend, he said.

Decker Truck Line is using B20 biodiesel a blend of 20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel in 20 of the companys trucks, running from its terminal in Fort Dodge to either Chicago or Minneapolis. The trucks are Peterbilt 379s, 388s, and 389s, with mostly flatbed trailers. All trucks have Caterpillar C13 or C15 engines built to EPA 2004 and EPA 2007 emissions levels.

According to Decker, observations during the study, including oil analysis results, have shown cleaner engine oil, positive impact on engine wear, decreased maintenance due to increased lubricity, and no cold weather issues even with temperatures in the teens and single digits.

Caterpillar is also following the results of the study and conducting further analysis on the effects of biodiesel. In addition to Caterpillar, many trucking companies, independent truckers, government agencies and other OEMs are interested in the ongoing results.

Cummins also announced approval of the use of B20 biodiesel in many of its engines. The B20 approval is for 2002 and later emissions-compliant ISX, ISM, ISL, ISC and ISB engines, including recently released 2007 products.

Cummins announcement is a major milestone for diesel equipment-maker acceptance of biodiesel, said Steve Howell, technical director with the NBB. Cummins is among the leaders in the on-highway truck engine market. As knowledgeable consumers add support for B20 in their purchasing decisions for diesel vehicles, the smart companies are taking advantage of that and issuing B20 support as a way to capture this growing sentiment for using fuels we dont have to import.

Cummins decided to upgrade its previous position on the use of biodiesel fuel, which limited the recommended use to B5, for three key reasons: The American Society of Testing Materials specification ASTM D 6751 now includes an important stability specification for B100 biodiesel; the availability of quality fuels from BQ-9000 Certified Marketers and Accredited Producers is growing rapidly; and Cummins has completed the necessary testing and evaluations to ensure that customers can reliably operate their equipment with confidence using high quality B20 fuel.

We have completed exhaustive analysis and test evaluations which enable Cummins to provide the necessary guidance and information to our customers for the proper and successful use of this fuel in our engine, said Edward Lyford-Pike, Chief Engineer – Advanced Alternative Fuel Programs with Cummins. This will enable our customers to have a choice that includes renewable fuel.

Although some parts of the country have had an unusually cold winter, the 20 biodiesel trucks in use by Decker have had no issues with gelling or performance due to biodiesel, which he attributes to the work done with NBB in finding high-quality fuel that is properly handled and treated to help biodiesel perform in cold weather.

Decker Truck Line experienced issues with fuel filter clogging due to self-blending of the fuel as opposed to using professionally-blended fuel. Decker hopes the experiences will help other trucking firms and independent truckers avoid the same pitfalls.

Until the two million miles are complete, conclusions about mileage and efficiency are not available. Tests so far are within the margin of error and are influenced by driving styles.

Decker Truck Line and Iowa Central Community College have developed a Web site to show results: . Iowa Central collects and analyzes the data that is downloaded from the Qualcomm system in each truck. Data includes miles per gallon, total miles, idle time, max speed, average speed, and more.

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