Renewable Challenge: Winter vs. biodiesel

EDMONTON — Biodiesel is the buzz as the new and environmentally improved way to drive truck these days. But the renewable fuel still gets a chilly reception from northerners who question the cold weather performance of biodiesel.

But Climate Change Central (CCC) answered the skeptics a cold winter morning in Edmonton this week with Canada’s largest cold-weather, on-road demonstration of renewable diesel.

The Alberta Renewable Diesel Demonstration is managed by CCC — a non-profit public/private partnership — and included a lab testing phase of various fuel feedstocks and production processes.

“The demonstration consists of a diverse group of stakeholders working to broaden understanding of how best to maximize the benefits of renewable diesel in Canada,” says John Rilett, director with Climate Change Central. “The demonstration findings will provide valuable information towards the development of sound government policy in Canada.”

Rosenau President Carl Rosenau (left) and IT manager Terry Rhode
are confident their biodiesel truck can withstand a frosty Edmonton winter

With a network of terminals stretching the length of Alberta and out into to the other western provinces, Rosenau Transport has volunteered a portion of its trucks to the demonstration to test the winter prairie climate.

“We will have 28 trucks in the project and have to ensure a certain amount of biodiesel is used in each location,” explained Terry Rhode, assistant controller and IT manager with Rosenau. “The climate is a lot different in Grande Prairie than it is in Calgary, and part of the project is to run only certain fuels in certain trucks.”

The demonstration hopes to provide cold-weather hands-on experience for fuel blenders, distributors, trucking fleets and drivers. During the next 10 months renewable blends of B2 and B5 (two and five percent biodiesel mixed with petroleum diesel) will test cold weather operability and the impact on engine components.

“A good portion of the onus is on us, while Climate Change Central will be more of a resource; and we’ll be communicating with them to handle it effectively,” said Rhode. “We’ll be monitoring a number of different things including fuel mileage, idle time consumption, oil samples and engine diagnostics.”

The carrier is excited about its involvement in the demonstration and if there will be modifications in the future, participating in the implementation process will allow for fewer surprises later on.

Other participating commercial operators will include Hi-Way 9, First Bus Canada and Gibson Energy, with a total of 60 trucks taking to the road.

Last year the federal government revealed plans to implement a Renewable Fuels Standard requiring 5 percent renewable content in gasoline by 2010 and 2 percent renewable content in the Canadian diesel supply by 2012.

Shell’s Sherwood terminal will supply the project’s ULSD biodiesel

However, the standard is dependent upon the successful demonstration of renewable diesel use under a range of Canadian conditions.

“The standards from this demonstration are key to developing standards for the 2 percent blend in 2012,” explained JoAnne Buth, president of the Canola Council of Canada, which is one of the sponsors of the project. She’s confident the crop will be the answer to any cold weather problems biodiesel has experienced in the past.

“For one, it’s a made in Canada crop developed in Western Canada and it also provides farmers with the best returns,” said Buth. “It’s unique characteristics, like low saturated fats, attribute to its cold weather success.”

While a number of industry stakeholders are contributing to the demonstration, the Alberta and Canadian governments are combining for a $2.6 million investment in the project.

Shell Canada will be the demonstration’s ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD) supplier and the renewable diesel blender and distributor through the project’s temporary facility being operated by Shell at its Sherwood Terminal in Edmonton.

The renewable diesels will be distributed at three Flying J terminals — in Calgary, Edmonton and Lloydminster — as well as a tank at Rosenau’s Edmonton terminal.

A B1 to B5 blend of biodiesel can work in today’s truck engines without modification and some engine makers have indicated they could handle a blend of up to 20 percent renewable content (B20).

“It should be a seamless transition, once we’ve proven it won’t be a problem it’s a matter of putting it in the cardlocks,” added Rosenau’s Rhode.

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