By Erin Voegele

In the past year, more than 750 diesel technicians and students have been trained on the benefits and use of biodiesel through an educational program established by the Iowa Biodiesel Board. The program, which is specifically targeted at Iowa’s diesel mechanic community and community college instructors, aims to increase professional knowledge on biodiesel and its performance in diesel engines. The program is fully funded by a grant from the Iowa Power Fund.

During the first year of the program, continuing education courses aimed at diesel mechanics in the workforce were held at all 15 of Iowa’s community colleges. A two-day “train the trainer” course was also offered for college faculty in September 2009, where instructors were provided with biodiesel curriculum and had the opportunity to interact with industry experts. A follow-up meeting held in March allowed faculty to share instructional experiences and received curriculum updates.

According to Jerry Burns, an associate professor at Des Moines Area Community College, the curriculum through the training program is one of the best he ever received. “In my classes, I am now able to embed that curriculum into my courses, and teach it as some of my regular curriculum, so my students are now able to get the latest and greatest biodiesel training,” Burns said. “And, I know that pretty much holds true for many of the other instructors across the state that participated in the program.”

Burns said the program has given him the opportunity to train not only students, but also fleet managers and diesel technicians, on the benefits of biodiesel. “The range of knowledge of people who have attended the classes was very wide,” he said. “The majority of them had heard of biodiesel, but maybe didn’t know a whole lot about it, so this curriculum was really able to bring them [up to speed] on what biodiesel is, what feedstocks biodiesel is made out of, and what percentages of the fuel engine manufacturers support the use of.” The training also provided students with information on how to identify high quality biodiesel at the pump.

According to Burns, the feedback he has received from students has been overwhelmingly positive. “They now know to look for the BQ-9000 seal of approval at the pump to know that [the biodiesel] meets ASTM fuel testing specs,” he said. In addition, prior to the training many students didn’t understand the benefits of biodiesel. “The ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel that we’re required to use on the road now basically took a lot of lubrication out of the fuel,” Burns continued. “One of the characteristics of biodiesel is enhanced lubrication value…so by running even a blend as low as 2 percent biodiesel, it helps to offset some of the sulfur content that we used to have for lubrication in diesel fuel. A lot of people were very unaware of that. They were also unaware that some of the exhaust emissions…are lowered.”

Randy Olson, IBB executive director, said, “The biodiesel industry has always taken a very proactive approach in its outreach to the petroleum community and users of the fuel. This education program is one more example of that forwarding thinking approach. In fact, we’ve tried to learn lessons from our cousins in the ethanol industry. There are many antidotes in the early development of the ethanol industry that highlighted mechanics and other influencers not being fully educated on the performance of ethanol in engines. So, as a result, the biodiesel industry is trying to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that diesel mechanics have accurate, up-to-date information about biodiesel and its performance in heavy duty engines.”

When people take their vehicles to a technician or mechanic, they put their trust in them, said Burns. If they say a certain fuel is bad, then people probably won’t use it. Alternatively, if those technicians and mechanics could explain the benefits of using a biodiesel-blended fuel, drivers would be more willing to give it a try. “These students who are taking this [knowledge] out into the workforce are going to be better able to educate people on biodiesel,” Burns said. “I feel very strongly that this is a good program. It has helped train a lot of people and made them very knowledgeable on what biodiesel truly is.”