Funded in part by Natural Resources Canada’s National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative, forest research institute FPInnovations just completed a multiphase investigation looking at the performance of biodiesel blends in various off-road applications.

By Ron Kotrba

A comprehensive study of biodiesel blends in some of the harshest off-road applications is wrapping up in Canada, and the verdict is good. The undertaking is one of several projects initiated and funded by Natural Resources Canada’s National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative, a program launched in December 2008 to address industry and end-user questions about biodiesel use by demonstrating how it will perform under Canadian real-world conditions as a federal B2 mandate nears.

The issues identified by the NRDDI for investigation include impacts of cold weather and long-term storage on biodiesel; the interaction of biodiesel from various feedstocks with seasonal variations of ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD); the impacts on emerging heavy-duty truck engine technology, in particular 2007 and 2010 emission controls; impacts on engine and heating systems components; and how biodiesel works in the existing distribution infrastructure. Incidentally, the term “renewable diesel” was chosen by NRCan to be as inclusive as possible, to allow stakeholders in Canada the opportunity to test fuels they thought were important, says Nancy Johns, senior manager with the office of energy efficiency at NRCan. She confirms, however, that up to this point biodiesel has been the main fuel of interest in the NRDDI studies.

The study of interest here, the one being finalized now, was conducted by the nonprofit forest research institute FPInnovations, titled, “Demonstration of the Potential Use of Biodiesel for Off-Road Machinery in Canadian Highway Construction and Forest Operations.” It was compiled and written by Cameron Rittich, an energy and emissions program researcher with FPInnovations. The report details four site-specific and three application-specific aspects of this project using biodiesel blends in off-road industrial activities: highway construction in Coquitlam, British Columbia, sawmill yard operation in Prince George, B.C., and forest harvest operations in Saint-Ludger-de-Milot, Quebec, and Meritt, B.C.

The project’s duration was six months but only a couple of weeks were spent testing biodiesel blends at the two logging sites, thanks to logistical challenges on the part of the fuel supplier. “One of the first challenges was finding a forestry operator who was even willing to run biodiesel blends,” Rittich tells Biodiesel Magazine. “Especially out west, it was very difficult.”

Some problems identified early on using biodiesel blends in the woods for forestry operations, outside of obvious cold weather concerns, included a dirty fueling infrastructure and poor fueling practices. “Their practices aren’t exemplary,” Rittich says of the forestry industry. “Out in the woods you’ll often see dispensing pumps without any filters of any sort, and a lot of these methods for fueling the machinery use a small tank in the back of a pickup truck, that’s been in the back of the previous model pickup truck—and the model before that too,” he laughs. “So, some these tanks have been around for a while.”

Five Fuel Networks, Four Sites

Above-ground fuel storage tanks with no insulation ranging from 450 to 18,000 liters (119 to 4,755 gallons) were used, and five distinct fuel distribution networks were studied. The two logging operations tested B2. At the Saint-Ludger-de-Milot, Quebec, forestry site, one or more intermediate storage facility stopovers were used between taking delivery of in-line blended B2 from a terminal in Quebec City, and two on-site above-ground tanks sized 5,800 to 18,000 liters, from which 640 to 2,800 liter mobile tanks delivered the fuel to eight machines: two forwarders, two harvesters, two grapple skidders, one feller-buncher and one dangle-head processor. Even though multiple storage tanks and fuel transfers were used, no fuel-related issues emerged, according to the study.

The forestry site in Merritt, B.C., picked up in-line blended B2 from a Vancouver terminal and delivered it to a 13,000-liter storage tank on-site, where 450 to 650 liter mobile tanks then refueled 10 forestry machines: three dangle-head processors, two grapple skidders, two knuckle-loaders, a bulldozer, an excavator and a feller-buncher.

At Prince George, B.C., the sawmill site, two different fuel distribution networks were used, the first from mid-December to mid-March, and the second from mid-March to the present. The first system involved a tanker truck picking up ULSD at a bulk terminal in Prince George, and using in-tank blending a second tank holding soy B100 was pumped in a third empty tank at the same time as the ULSD. The B5 was recirculated in the main tank for thorough mixing, and the fuel was delivered to a 15,000-liter above-ground storage tank from which operators filled their machines. The second fuel distribution method utilized in-line blended B5 picked up in an 18,000-liter tanker trailer from the Shell Vancouver terminal rack, which was met off-site by delivery tankers that filled up from the large tanker trailer and delivered B5 to the sawmill’s 15,000-liter above-ground storage tank, from which operators filled their equipment directly. The 12 sawmill machines running on B5 included knuckle-boom loaders, forklifts, wheel loaders and log stackers.

The Coquitlam, B.C., construction site, where crews worked to relocate a sewer line for a major highway improvement project, took delivery of B10 directly from an 8,100-liter delivery truck to each of the 16 pieces of machinery: four articulated trucks, six excavators, one crane, one grader, one backhoe, one compactor (steam roller), one bulldozer and a wheel loader. The delivery truck loaded B5 at the Shell Terminal in Vancouver and added B100 using in-tank blending to get a B10 blend.

Positive Results

Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures tested the actual fuel blends from the three blending methods, splash, in-tank and in-line. As expected, in-line blending provided the most accurate blends compared to what blend levels were desired, and the blends conformed to either Canadian CGSB or, in the case of B10, ASTM D7467 quality specifications. All B100 used for blending came with certificates of analyses.

The good news is that no cold flow, startability or operability issues were ever documented in this comprehensive study of biodiesel blends in real-world off-road Canadian conditions. FPInnovations’ MultiDAT monitoring devices were fitted onto each piece of equipment tested on biodiesel blends, and monitored work activities such as digging, cutting, lifting and normal smooth-road driving. No instances of a drop in productivity were logged. Also, operators sensed no difference in machine power or operability either. “Performance in cold weather never became an issue,” Rittich says. “We never had any instances—no fuel gelling, no filter plugging, no problems with machine operability or startability on cold mornings. And some of the machinery was parked outside, some inside, and they all started just fine, there was no issue with moisture or any other problems.”

“Certainly in a Canadian context we want to test performance in extreme cold weather as much as possible,” Johns says. The temperatures didn’t get as “extreme” as everyone hoped though. “It was unseasonably warm,” Rittich says. The coldest weather seen in the study was in Prince George, B.C., at minus 34 degrees Celsius. “We only got down to minus 34 degrees in one instance,” Rittich says. Johns says, “So this year we had the weather we had, but there had been other [NRDDI] studies looking at on-road trucks in Alberta running in minus 40 degrees, and other projects this year—an ag demo in Manitoba, where they had very cold winter snaps this year and all their ag equipment was running. We have on the whole tried to ensure that cold weather operability has been tested, and as long as our industry stakeholders’ remaining questions about renewable diesel use have been addressed through their demonstration work, then we have met the objectives of the NRDDI.”

Some of the machines tested were as new as 2010, and Rittich says at least one Caterpillar piece of equipment had a diesel particulate filter installed. Johns says, “There were at least seven vehicles that were model year 2007 or newer, but the project was not about investigating the efficiency or operability of aftertreatment devices.”

Oil analysis was conducted on all of the equipment run on biodiesel blends, and the preliminary data testing for total acid number and total base number suggests that no problems were found during the standard recommended oil change intervals every 300 hours. The final report, however, will include a more thorough investigation of the oil analyses from machines that used B10.

The duration that different machines were run on biodiesel blends varied from eight to 350 hours a month, which nicely shows that machines used only occasionally and in overtime performed as expected with no adverse results.

Essentially, the study has shown that, even considering the five different fuel delivery models for the four project sites consuming 280,000 liters of biodiesel blends, no real changes to fueling practices—meaning delivery and short-term storage—need to occur. Perhaps one change that is needed is more blend availability. “There are some challenges to supplying biodiesel blends to the northern regions, where it is really not in the marketplace now,” Rittich says. “In the Prince George region there’s no biodiesel in retail operations except for a few mom and pop operations, otherwise you can’t find biodiesel in some of these places.” He also notes that regardless whether biodiesel blends are used, all dispensing pumps should have filters that remove particles and water.

Once the final report is completed, an important final detail of the project will be education. “We’ve included an education component to the study they are doing,” Johns tells Biodiesel Magazine. “They will conduct regional workshops and develop implementation guides for both the construction and forestry sectors.”