Biodiesel rockin’ down the road

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By Todd Dills

Almost a quarter of the way into a 2-million-miles test of biodiesel in 20 over-the-road Caterpillar-powered Peterbilts, the company behind the experiment claimed positive results Wednesday, March 21, at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

“What we’ve observed so far is great performance in the particularly cold winter we just experienced, and reduced maintenance and engine wear benefits,” said Dale Decker, industry and government relations director for Decker Truck Line of Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Hard numbers are not yet available from the identically spec’d trucks – one set of control tractors and one variable so that comparisons can be made from the test – which began rolling last fall and 350,000 miles ago with a B20 blend of biodiesel. The tractors are Peterbilt 379s, 388s and 389s with Caterpillar C13 and C15 2006 and ’07 engines.

“We did nothing to the engines at all, just filled them up,” said Decker. Increased lubricity, and the fact that biodiesel burns cleaner, are seen as the source of decreased maintenance, he said. Although no engines have been pulled apart yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that biodiesel is effective. Caterpillar also will be gathering technical information as the test continues.

While mileage fell off a little, it was within driver variables, Decker said, so once some adjustments are made in driver rotation, the loss is expected to disappear.

Decker Truck Line, which hauls to all lower 48 states and Canada with 700 tractors and more than 1,400 trailers, is using mostly flatbeds, with some vans and reefers, in the test, running from Iowa to either Chicago or Minneapolis.

Decker Truck Line and Iowa Central Community College have developed a website (www.2millionmilehaul.com) to show results from the ongoing study that will end in fall 2008. The interim test results were announced by the partners in the Two Million Mile Haul, which includes Decker, Caterpillar, the National Biodiesel Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Iowa Central Community College and Renewable Energy Group.