The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has put pricing and availability pressure on anything that flows from or through those countries, including urea – a critical chemical in diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) of which Russia is the world's leading exporter.
The availability of urea itself hasn't emerged as a primary hurdle in widespread DEF distribution, rather it's a logjam of labor issues and railroad capacity that looms as the potential principal headache.
"There is not a shortage of DEF," stated matter of factly Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, vice president of public affairs for NATSO, the trade group that represents America's travel plazas and truck stops. "However, DEF is moved by rail, and the ongoing supply chain issues affect the availability of rail cars – specifically out West – to transport DEF."
A single railcar can hold upwards of 21,500 gallons of DEF – enough to fill up about 3,000 trucks, Pilot Company CEO Shameek Konar testified at the Surface Transportation Board meeting in April. "Every railcar that gets missed in terms of DEF delivery will reduce trucking potential by five million miles," he added.
To combat rail's potential shortcomings in DEF distribution, NATSO requested and received late last month an amendment to a previously granted hours of service waiver for haulers of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol and heating fuel. As of the end of May, DEF haulers were granted the same exemptions and conditions through at least Aug. 31, and there are currently no signs of a looming DEF supply crunch.
Pilot Company accounts for approximately one-third of the DEF supply in the U.S., according to Konar, and it supplies more than 300-million gallons annually to the transportation industry. While Pilot is not not currently experiencing any shortages in its supply of DEF, Brad Jenkins, senior vice president of supply and distribution, told CCJ that the company continues, "to work diligently with our expansive network of suppliers and partners to keep a consistent supply of DEF available for our customers and guests to ensure that North America’s over-the-road commercial trucking remains strong.”
Similarly, TravelCenters of America Senior Director of Communications Tina Arundel noted the supply and availability of DEF at its 276-site national network "are just fine." In fact, TA Petro is in the midst of a push to increase the availability of DEF at all diesel pumps nationwide.
Love’s also doesn’t currently anticipate a DEF shortage at its nearly 600 travel stops, according to the company's Communications Lead, Caitlin Campbell.
CCJ reached out late last week to several fleets, none of which responded that they were having any measure of trouble sourcing DEF. Jamie Hagen, owner of Aberdeen, S.D.-based Hell Bent Xpress, noted DEF is about the only fuel-related relief his 10-truck fleet has seen this year. "I get it in bulk and price has actually gone down for us," he said.