September 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature
While natural gas has pushed its way to center stage in the alternative fuels discussion, the investment in equipment and infrastructure make it less than appealing to many fleets. However, anyone who is currently running on diesel fuel can easily switch to a greener alternative without that type of up-front investment. They simply have to fill up their fuel tank with biodiesel.
Florida Power & Light was the first utility to deploy a plug-in hybrid biodiesel electric bucket truck like the one on the left in 2008.
“Biodiesel is a drop-in fuel. All you have to do is start pumping it into your vehicle,” says Claude Masters, manager of vehicle acquisition and fuel with Florida Power & Light. “You don’t have to modify your fuel infrastructure, and there is no need to develop an expensive infrastructure system.”
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 required electrical utilities with fleets to progressively work toward using alternative fuels. Biodiesel was one of those options. At the time, converting to alternative-fueled vehicles was even more expensive than it is today.
“The big reasons we adopted biodiesel was due to its cost-effectiveness and the very little work required for infrastructure and the engine itself,” Masters says.
Another reason was the far-reaching and unpredictable nature of the fleet’s day-to-day activities.
“Although my trucks work in a yard for the most of the time every day, my trucks might have to go to a different end of the state. During Hurricane Sandy, our trucks went all the way to New York,” Masters says. Using biodiesel, FPL’s fleet can easily accomplish those cross-state runs and was able to head up the coast to New York to lend relief help without the fear of not being able to find fuel.
“The natural gas infrastructure isn’t there yet, and it’s the same thing with hybrid, [both] plug-in and battery. There isn’t one right alternative fuel. It really just depends on your work missions for your vehicles and what you are trying to do with them every day,” Masters says.
FPL also has worked with OEMs and other manufacturers to develop and test other types of alternative-fueled-vehicles.
Of the roughly 3,400 vehicles in the fleet, 535 are plug-in electric hybrids, and about 1,700 vehicles run on biodiesel or are biodiesel hybrids.
Eventually, FPL aims to have 100% of its fleet running on alternative fuels.
The fleet has been running biodiesel for more than 10 years and has run more than 160 million miles. “We’ve had almost no operational issues associated with biodiesel.”
When biodiesel first came on the scene, Masters admits there were some problems, but says the kinks have since been worked out.
The main issue was product quality. But Kaleb Little, a spokesperson for the National Biodiesel Board, says that has long since been addressed.
“Several years back, the industry went through the ASTM process of developing standards for B100 [pure biodiesel] and biodiesel blends to ensure quality for the end-user,” Little says.
The first version of the ASTM D6751 biodiesel specifications was published in 2001, and in the years since there have been nearly 20 revisions the standard. The National Biodiesel Board took this standard a step further with its BQ-9000 accreditation program, which has even higher requirements.
In addition to making sure that your biodiesel provider meets these standards, Masters recommends adding on your own specifications for your biodiesel from your suppliers.
“Biodiesel can be produced many different ways, and all have different characteristics,” he explains.
“What we did as a company was wrote what our specific needs were in terms of cold flow, acid level, etc. Our distributor and manufacturer understand these needs and they test, as do we, the biodiesel all along the way to make sure it meets our standards.”
Another issue fleets face initially when making the switch is that biodiesel is a natural solvent and will clean out your fuel system. This causes fuel filters to fill up much more quickly than normal. Simply accelerating the rate of changing those filters will solve the problem.
The cost of biodiesel versus petroleum diesel is not the significant cost-savings that is being seen in the natural gas realm, but for FPL there is savings when filling up the tank with biodiesel.
“We consistently buy biodiesel at or below ultra low sulfur diesel price. We don’t pay a premium for biodiesel- its quite a bit cheaper than pump diesel price,” says Masters.
The most important thing for any fleet to do when they are considering any alternative fuel, Masters and Little agree, is doing your homework.
“Talk to other people who are experienced users who have went through the process,” says Masters.
Little adds: “There a lot in the biodiesel world who would be happy to share their experience.”
To learn more:
To understand what percentage of biodiesel blend your engine is certified for to avoid the possibility of voiding the warranty, contact your OEM or check out this website from the National Biodiesel Board: www.biodiesel.org/using-biodiesel/oem-information.
If you are interested in finding retail filling stations near you or along your route that have biodiesel blends available: www.biodiesel.org/using-biodiesel/finding-biodiesel/retail-locations.
If you’re looking to fill your own central fuel tanks with biodiesel, finding a biodiesel distributor is the next step. The National Biodiesel Board has a list of biodiesel distributors, most of who will work with you to deliver pure biodiesel or a customized biodiesel blend. Find a list of distributors at: www.biodiesel.org/using-biodiesel/finding-biodiesel/locate-distributors-in-the-us.