A Buffalo company is taking part in a nationwide test of biodiesel fuel to determine the viability of the blend -- made from regular diesel plus vegetable oils or animal fats -- for companies looking to reduce their dependence on petroleum.
Bob Hartl, the local franchisee for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, is one of 10 operators around the nation selected by truck-maker Isuzu for the test. One of his trucks will use biodiesel and be examined by a mechanic every two months to determine the effects of the fuel.
"This test has been two years in the works. I volunteered for the test, and I believe I was chosen because the company wants to test trucks running on biodiesel in different regions with different weather conditions," he said.
The use of biodiesel is growing as companies look for alternative, renewable energy sources.
"Mostly, fleets of diesel-burning vehicles are switching to biodiesel," said Jenna Higgins, director of communications for the National Biodiesel Board.
In recent years, biodiesel usage has significantly grown, usually doubling and tripling from the previous year's usage, she said. In 2006, more than 250 million gallons of biodiesel were produced and used, an increase from the previous year's 75 million gallons. This was the most significant increase the industry has seen, she said. This is just a tiny fraction of the 40 billion gallons of diesel used in America each year on average.
Although the biodiesel industry in Europe has been thriving for 25 years, biodiesel has only become widely available in the United States since the late 1990s.
By using biodiesel, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? joins a growing trend of companies switching to alternative fuels.
Terpening Trucking of Syracuse has been experimenting with using biodiesel in its commercial trucks.
"We have four semis, and back in December we switched two of them to run only on biodiesel. We started out using a B-5 blend (5 percent vegetable oil), and now we are using a B-20 blend. In months we have used it, we haven't had any problems," said Craig Terpening.
Metalico, a scrap metal processor with six locations in the region, switched to biodiesel approximately two years ago.
"When we decided to make the switch, our head mechanic was skeptical of the long-term effects the fuel would have on our trucks. So far, we have not had any problems at all," said George Ostendorf, general manager of Metalico Buffalo.
Metalico uses a B-80 grade in its vehicles, a much higher grade than 1-800-GOT-JUNK? will be using and Terpening Trucking uses.
Typically, engines run on B-5 to B-20 grades of biodiesel. A B-20 grade is a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel. It can be put in most diesel-burning engines with few or no modifications made to the engine. Emissions of hazardous byproducts like carbon monoxide and ozone gas are reduced by up to half with biodiesel.
Also, the animal fats and vegetable oils used in biodiesel are mostly recycled waste products from slaughter houses and food processors, so that's environmentally friendly.
Biodiesel does have its drawbacks.
"Biodiesel in its purest form, B-100, does not produce the same amount of BTUs as regular fossil fuels do. This means engines lose power and miles per gallon," Terpening said.
Unlike a traditional gasoline-burning engine, a diesel engine uses air compression to produce movement. The heat generated from the compressed air in the engine ignites the fuel. In a biodiesel-burning engine, the only difference is the fuel used.
Biodiesel has three hurdles it must jump before it becomes readily accepted -- operability, availability and chemical testing, said Mike Newman, executive vice president of Noco Energy Corp. in the Town of Tonawanda.
If biodiesel freezes, the added oils in it can coagulate and must be heated up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit so an engine doesn't get clogged with it, while an engine using diesel only has to be heated up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
Also, the nation's petroleum system was built to distribute hydrocarbon products like gasoline and diesel, and not supplements like ethanol and biodiesel. Biodiesel can't be readily shipped through a pipeline like gas can, since it has the potential to contaminate other petroleum products going through a pipeline. It has to be blended and then transported by rail or truck.
Noco is building a storage tank for Hartl and will deliver the biodiesel by truck.
"The fuel distribution system right now is very tight. If biodiesel breaks the system or contaminates other fuel, then the price of gas would jump as much as a dollar higher," Newman said.
Additionally, chemists are still developing the right mixture of petroleum and its additives to make biodiesel that works optimally in different weather conditions.
"Customers have to be in the right mind-set when using biodiesel and understand problems it can create so they can prevent them," he said.
Price has also been a deterrent.
"When a gallon of regular diesel was $1.90, biodiesel became more economic. It's always been a price-sensitivity issue," Newman said.
Terpening Trucking sells a gallon of B-10 grade biodiesel for around $2.90, while Noco sells a gallon for $2.34. A gallon of regular diesel costs approximately $2.97 in New York State, according to Truck Stop National Diesel Average Report on Friday.
Despite the mixed information concerning biodiesel, Hartl is optimistic about the six-month test.
"The franchise has 10,000 trucks in its fleet nationwide, and I would like to see the entire fleet run on biodiesel," he said. "I care a lot about the environment and I think there could be big savings for the company and the environment through using biodiesel."