Iowa Soybean Association president Delbert Christensen hand-delivered a letter on March 1 to the Iowa House Agriculture Committee and other sate legislative leaders at the State Capitol in Des Moines. Christensen's letter explained why ISA was taking exception to the anti-biodiesel message that was presented to legislators the week before by opponents of the proposed requirement for B5 usage in Iowa.
The Iowa Biodiesel Board and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association also made presentations to the House Agriculture Committee in response to the negative biodiesel reports made by Decker Trucking and the Iowa Motor Truck Association. IBB and IFRA stressed the benefits of biodiesel to Iowa's economy and urged legislators to find ways to increase use within the state.
Setting state lawmakers straight on the benefits of biodiesel
Christensen, a farmer from Audubon in western Iowa, specifically wanted to set the lawmakers straight on the testimony of Steve Lursen, a representative of the trucking industry, who spoke to the legislators on February 25 regarding the "2 Million Mile Haul"—an over the road biodiesel test that was conducted by Decker Truck Line of Ft. Dodge. Lursen works for Decker and managed the test.
The reluctance of truckers to use biodiesel has been one of the main reasons the biodiesel industry has struggled. And the message Lursen gave to the legislators isn't likely to help the cause. The legislature is pondering a bill that would mandate biodiesel use in Iowa. It would require that B5, a 5% blend of biodiesel with petroleum diesel, be sold in all diesel fuel.
Trucking official criticizes biodiesel, overblowing quality issue
In the letter Lursen brought to the capitol on February 25, Decker Trucking said its 2-million-mile study "proves that biodiesel is not cost-effective at this time."
Decker ran biodiesel in some of its trucks beginning in 2007 to study the impact of regular use of the fuel, particularly in winter when biodiesel can gel in cold temperatures. "Cold weather is a major issue for biodiesel," the Decker letter stated. Lursen criticized the Iowa Biodiesel Board, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Renewable Energy Group of Ames, saying they misstated Decker's position on the fuel and the outcome of the study.
The Iowa Biodiesel Board and ISA have taken exception to Lursen's remarks. "We have nothing but respect for Iowa's truckers, but it seems fear and politics are overtaking the facts," says Randy Olson, executive director of the biodiesel board. "The study found few significant differences between the 20% biodiesel blend or B20 and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in performance and operation."
Millions of dollars have been spent on biodiesel research
"Iowa soybean farmers, through their checkoff, have invested millions of dollars in research, and the fuel is of high quality, as witnessed by engine manufacturers' warranties," says Christensen. "While we can debate the merits of a biodiesel mandate or requirement for use, Iowa farmers cannot allow political opponents to damage the reputation of this fuel, which is used year-round by thousands of farmers and thousands of truckers with great results."
Responding to Lursen's comments, Christensen's letter stated, "It is clear Decker is opposed to the proposed usage of B5 currently being considered by the Iowa house…. Let me say clearly and for the record that ISA has not portrayed Decker Trucking as being in support of the Iowa House proposal."
Christensen's letter presented background on the Two Million Mile Haul study. "ISA is proud to have been the driving force behind this unbiased, technical real world analysis of B20 in the over-the road fleet of Decker Trucking, which took place from 2006 to 2009," Christensen wrote. "ISA has taken great care to ensure the information and data shared about the report accurately portray the findings of the study. We fully stand behind statements about the positive outcomes of this study."
ISA stands behind statements about positive outcomes of study
Beside ISA and Decker Trucking, other partners in the project were Caterpillar Engine Company, Iowa Central Community College, National Biodiesel Board, Renewable Energy Group and USDA Rural Development.
"In order to help provide the most technically credible and independent analysis of the data, the final report was prepared by Iowa Central Community College's Dr. Don Heck, along with Mr. Atta Mohammad and Ms. Hind Abi-Akar of Caterpillar," Christensen said. "The scientific report does a thorough and non-biased job of presenting and evaluating the results of the study on behalf of all the project partners."
Christensen pointed out that the House proposal is for a B5 blend, using 5% biodiesel, which is just a one-fourth of the B20 blend. B5 has been incorporated in conventional diesel fuel specifications, which means it is to be handled and treated just as conventional diesel fuel is treated. Even so, the technical facts about B20 demonstrated in the 2 Million Mile Haul show the quality of biodiesel, Christensen's letter showed.
Either no or minor differences between B20 & petroleum diesel
The Two Million Mile Haul study showed that fuel economy differences between B20 and petrodiesel are either non-existent or much smaller than the normal variation seen from driver to driver. In their final report giving conclusions of the study, Heck and his associates said, "We found a slight decrease in overall fuel efficiency for the B20 group (as opposed to the conventional diesel group) but this was not statistically significant given relatively small sample size and short time period of the study, and in fact, was several times smaller than the driver-to-driver variability in fuel efficiency within each group."
The difference in fuel consumption between the petrodiesel and B20 groups was 1.25% to 2%, depending on the method it was calculated while the report also showed a total driver to driver variation of more than 20%. According to Heck, "With the relatively small sample size, mileage differences aren't worth mentioning at the B20 level, and would not even be detectable at the B5 level."
Study also showed B20 can be used successfully in cold weather
Christensen's letter pointed out that the study also showed B20 can be successfully used in cold weather. While there were some incidences of increased filter maintenance from the study, according to Heck, "Many of the maintenance issues can be explained by the 2007 national changeover to ultra low sulfur petroleum diesel, on-site blending and storage negligence or inexperience with biodiesel. Even those were relatively minor issues in the context of the whole study."
Additional experience with both ULSD and biodiesel blends, combined with improved biodiesel specifications, have provided trouble-free B20 use in cold weather for many, many users in Iowa and around the country.
Looking at engine wear—what Caterpillar researchers found
"In addition, B20 showed no notable difference in engine wear over the period of the 2 Million Mile Haul," Christensen said.
According to the Caterpillar engineers, the post-test engine teardown results showed no notable difference between the B20 engines and those using petrodiesel. "In fact, due to the documented increase of fuel lubricity imparted by biodiesel, the lubricity additive normally necessary for ULSD is no longer needed for biodiesel blends containing at least 2% biodiesel. This results in an additive cost saving as well as potential savings from less long-term component wear," Christensen said.
Most important, Christensen emphasized that Iowa's biodiesel companies have fully embraced the industry's gold standard for biodiesel quality BQ9000. "Almost every company providing biodiesel in Iowa is BQ-9000 certified, and a recent study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed that BQ-9000 companies consistently met the ASTM biodiesel specifications. In addition, the Iowa Department of Weights and Measures is working with the new state-of-the-art laboratory facilities at Iowa Central Community College to conduct in-state quality testing to help ensure that biodiesel used in Iowa meets the highest quality standards."