The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Converting to Biodiesel: A Green Case Study

November 2007, by Daryl Lubinsky

Charlie Manfred has seen several benefits to working with biodiesel-fueled vehicles and equipment instead of regular diesel fuel. Manfred is project manager for Syracuse, N.Y.-based A.P. Reale, a company doing excavation work and paving for Destiny USA’s expansion of the nearby Carousel Center.

Rather than relying on foreign oil, Manfred’s company fuels its fleet of vehicles and equipment with biodiesel, created from soy and other natural products.

The cleaner-burning biodiesel emits substantially less carbon monoxide. Instead of breathing harmful diesel fumes all day, Manfred works at a site that smells like, well, french fries.

"When you’re working around so many pieces of equipment, the fuel that we’re burning, basically you’re working around a big deep frier," Manfred says. "When you work around dieselburning equipment, it’s usually annoying. And you can develop a headache just from breathing it."

Manfred says using biodiesel has made a huge impact on the Carousel Center site. The first phase is a 1.3-million-square-foot expansion. The center currently has major tenants such as Macy’s and JC Penney, but will eventually become a 2-million square-foot destination site that will include hotels, dining, and entertainment. The center aims to be a "green" site that causes as little disruption to the environment as possible.

Destiny USA announced in June that all equipment operating on the job site runs on 100-percent soy-based biodiesel, or B-100. Biodiesel can be used as a pure fuel or blended with petroleum in any percentage. Biodiesel can also be made from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases.

Destiny USA, a shopping, entertainment, and office site developer mandated that all suppliers use biodiesel fuel when working with the company.

Building Site Free of Fossil Fuels
Destiny USA develops malls in the northeastern U.S. Robert Congel, founder of Destiny USA, envisioned a destination center that operated without fossil fuels. The Carousel Center expansion began in March, and Destiny USA acquired more than $1 billion in federal green bonds for projects that meet certain environmental requirements, such as using recycled materials, implementing solar energy use, and adopting water conservation measures.

Congel then came up with the idea to not only construct a green building, but to build it that way as well. One aspect of this green initiative was fleet, and all the bulldozers, steamrollers, pavers, dump trucks, and other vehicles necessary for a project of this magnitude.

"You have to step back and look at everything you’re doing and think of how to make it greener," said Melissa Perry, director of sustainability for Destiny USA. "We knew biodiesel was a possibility for diesel engines. We knew that’s one of the most polluting pieces of building a project."

The Destiny project is using soy-based biodiesel because the soy doesn’t gel as quickly in cold climates.

Addressing Biodiesel Challenges

Destiny USA met with engine manufacturers, equipment suppliers, and contractors to discuss plans to use 100-percent biodiesel in its vehicles and equipment. Doubts persisted among the groups in those meetings because of the challenges associated with biodiesel use.

Manfred says vehicle manufacturer warranties will not allow running a vehicle with more than a 20-percent blend of biodiesel. "Our company has stepped up to the plate," Manfred said. "We voided warranties, obviously, but we said we’ll give it a shot."

Manfred says he had heard about the various reported problems associated with using biodiesel. Perry says that biodiesel is basically a detergent, and it will clean out an engine. However, residue buildup will run through the engine, which could cause performance problems. Biodiesel is also purported to degrade natural rubber, requiring replacement of rubber engine parts more often when using the fuel.

To address those problems, Destiny USA started out using B-5, or 5-percent biodiesel. After 3,000 gallons, the equipment began using B-20, which is the cutoff point for many engine manufacturers. Destiny operated equipment on the B-20 level for about 18,000 gallons and then jumped to B-50. In June, Destiny USA announced that all its vehicles and equipment were operating on B-100, or 100-percent biodiesel. Through the duration of construction, Destiny USA expects that nearly 100 different construction vehicles will run on biodiesel.

Manfred said he heard reports that biodiesel can cause a 10-percent loss in horsepower, but has not found that to be true. The engine manufacturers also recommended that he keep a large supply of fuel filters on hand, because biodiesel would cause them to be replaced often. He also heard suggestions that he convert any rubberized fuel lines on the equipment to steel lines. But that hasn’t been necessary yet either, he says.

"Aside from regular maintenance, and we’re approaching 40,000 gallons of fuel through this equipment, we have experienced only one clogged filter, and we can’t even relate that to the biofuel because that’s common in diesel fuel as well," Manfred says.

As a precaution, the company has increased the scheduled maintenance on the vehicles and equipment from every 250 hours of service to every 100 hours. The company is also sending oil samples, taken every 100 hours of service, to a testing lab to check for metals in the oil or any kind of engine wear.

"We feel that the data we can collect from this project is valuable to not only us but other contractors as well who may be eager to switch to these fuels," Manfred says.

Another challenge is that the fuel can be more expensive. Tax credits are available for mixing biodiesel with regular diesel, but no tax credits are available for using 100-percent biodiesel, Perry says.

However, companies with green initiatives are reaping the benefits of "eco-marketing." Developers gain tax credits or tax-free "green bonds" to cut air pollution emissions from new buildings. Though biodiesel is not required to qualify for the bonds, many developers will seek out contractors with green fleets for their projects. One Washington-based excavator reports 15 percent more business because he uses biodiesel in his fleet and equipment.

Destiny USA reports that over the 18-month construction period, Destiny USA’s use of clean 100-percent renewable energy will reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 67 percent. Particulate matter will be reduced by 47 percent, according to a technical report released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

For companies thinking of trying biodiesel in their vehicles, Manfred advises experimenting by adding biodiesel to one piece of equipment first.

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