By Bryan Sims | November 07, 2011

Photo: Amtrak

In a research paper presented at a railroad environmental conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Amtrak reported that the use of B20 during a year-long trial in its Heartland Flyer locomotive resulted in no more wear than straight ULSD diesel, with no reduction in performance or reliability.

Amtrak launched the one-year B20 trail on Earth Day in February 2010 before it concluded the test on May 15. During that time, more than 150,000 equipment miles were logged and more than 175,000 gallons of B20 fuel was used. Findings at the conclusion of the trial include opacity measurements were below U.S. EPA established Tier 0 limits for locomotive engines; carbon monoxide, NOx and particulate matter using B20 were below limits for EPA established Tier 0 engines; moderate piston deposits and clean engine surfaces lacking sludge or deposit depth; minimal wear on cylinder liners and piston rings; connected rod bearings showed normal wear; used oil exhibited low wear metals that indicated low wear; an anticipated 5 percent increase in NOx was observed using B20 compared to EPA certified fuel; and full power was achieved using B20 with no loss in horsepower at low idle, idle or notches one through eight.

“The results of the trial indicate the in-service locomotive was very reliable with the B20 blend, engine wear was limited, air emissions were below EPA limits for this generation of passenger locomotive, and the biofuel supply met industry standards,” said Roy Deitchman, Amtrak’s vice president of environmental, health and safety.

Powered by a 3,200-horsepower General Electric P32-8 locomotive with a 12-cylinder diesel engine, Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer locomotive sported a decal indicating that it used nothing but B20 on its regular stops through Norman, Okla., Purcell, Okla., Pauls Valley, Okla., Ardmore, Okla., and Gainesville, Texas. The average price difference of B20 during the trial was about 13 cents per gallon more than regular ULSD diesel, according to Amtrak.

The locomotive was fueled in Fort Worth by Amtrak’s existing fuel vender, Euless, Texas-based Direct Fuels, which provided biodiesel made exclusively from beef tallow. The trial received support on fuel and engine component evaluation from Chevron Oronite while OEM support and warranty matters were carried out at the General Electric facility in Erie, Pa.

“Routine use of biodiesel fuel at Amtrak is contingent on many factors, including cost versus traditional ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and availability,” Deitchman said. “But it is clear no significant engine performance issues were found during the trial and we were able to replace nearly 35,000 gallons of diesel with a renewable fuel that was locally produced.”

Amtrak received a $274,000 grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to carry out the research project in partnership with the Oklahoma and Texas Departments of Transportation.