Canada Greens its Transportation Industry

For decades, smog, acid rain and global warming have all been linked to the transportation industry. As the leading consumer of oil, motor vehicles account for approximately 25 percent of Canada's national levels of greenhouse gas emissions. With rising concerns over climate change, the country is faced with developing alternative transportation solutions to reduce its environmental footprint. From this cloudy problem emerges one clear answer: The road to cleaner air may be paved with biodiesel.
By Ryan Deska | February 11, 2008
Canada has committed to reducing national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2008 and 2012 by 6 percent below 1990 levels, in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.

Consequently, many urban cities across Canada have already begun to adopt the use of biodiesel, in conjunction with an increased public transportation capacity, in the attempt to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions. This is a growing trend, fueled by research, knowledge and greater public support for these applications. While demand is growing for biodiesel use, both from the government and consumers, the national infrastructure is not yet adequate to ensure efficient, cost-effective distribution of B100 to meet these demands. Further growth within the public transportation sector is dependent on new technologies and research, and a comprehensive infrastructure that meets the increasing demands.

The Saskatoon BioBus Project
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, BioBus Project provides a prime example of the strides the biodiesel industry is taking on a community level. With support from a number of local organizations, the city of Saskatoon completed phase two of its three-phase BioBus project in 2005-a combined six-year process intended to evaluate the influence of canola-based biodiesel on the fuel economy and engine wear of Saskatoon Transit buses. The fuels in each bus were alternated between B5 and seasonal low-sulfur diesel. The city used an inductively coupled plasma spectrometer to analyze weekly engine oil samples and obtain engine wear rates. Fuel consumption records provided energy efficiency data and the fuels themselves were tested for lubricity, viscosity and specific gravity at the University of Saskatchewan.

"We chose to be a leader instead of a follower, of that I'm proud to say," says Abe Driedger, maintenance project manager for Saskatoon Transit. While this project demonstrated the city's leadership, Driedger had his reservations prior to its start-up. However, upon learning the initial facts regarding the economic and technical viability, and seeing firsthand the ease of implementation, his doubts were relieved. For blends up to B5, no modifications were required for diesel bus engines, and a GHG reduction of up to 8.2 percent was observed. In regards to developing this path even further: "I can't see us going in any direction but forward," Driedger says. Phase three of the Saskatoon BioBus project commenced in February 2007 and is scheduled to run until 2009. The study will continue to analyze the potential benefits of using B1 and B5 blends. As technology continually evolves, it is important to maintain similar studies in order to facilitate the introduction of more progressive initiatives.

One major contributor to the project has been Milligan Bio-Tech, a producer of canola-based biodiesel in Saskatchewan, who supplied the fuel throughout the project's duration. According to Carl Perlinger, business development manager for Milligan Bio-Tech, it's important for the biofuels industry to get involved and support studies like these because the potential benefits, both for industry and the public, are too great to let pass by. "This study will prove to the public that biodiesel is in fact a high-quality product," Perlinger says. It also provides feedback for producers regarding their product's functionality and allows them to further refine their production methods.

Engine Issues
In the BioBus study, fuel economy benefits were highest with B1 fuel, ranging from 2.3 percent to more than 2.9 percent. Engine wear reductions were highest with B5 fuel, ranging from 42 percent to more than 46 percent. While the canola-based biodiesel costs more than low-sulfur diesel fuel, when a direct decrease in fuel demand and potential engine wear reductions are taken into account, there was an observed savings of up to 4.6 cents per liter for the transit company.

The Toronto Transit Commission invested $6.1 billion in an Environmental Initiative/Green Plan that was implemented in December as part of the growing movement to tackle climate change. "The TTC is committed to becoming the greenest transit company in North America," Adam Giambrone, chair of the TTC, announced at the Ontario Environment Industry Association conference in November in Toronto, Ontario. This encompasses all aspects of operations from waste reduction to the use of biofuels within fleet buses. The TTC however, is currently using B5 in its fleet and is not able to increase its blend ratio due to engine manufacturer warranty restrictions. "The public is ready for governments to get started, but setbacks like these are making it difficult," Giambrone says.

The warranty restrictions put in place by the engine manufacturers are likely to improve once the American Society for Testing Materials' B6-B20 specification, currently under balloting process, is passed. "Some OEMs [original engine manufacturers] have indicated they will warranty up to B20 once ASTM blend specifications are in place," says BBI International's Project Development Manager Stu Porter, who recently attended the ASTM meetings in Phoenix. Due to biodiesel's lower relative cloud point to petroleum diesel, it is also the responsibility of the blender to ensure that biodiesel and petroleum diesel are blended in such a manner that the end product will still meet the seasonal diesel specifications for the fuel's region of use.

In Canada, there is no specification in ASTM or the Canadian General Standards Board for B100, moreover, the feedstock to supply B100 on a wide scale is not available. For Canada, the use of B5 is most appropriate to accommodate the colder winters and to meet the level of demand. Introducing a B5 blend of biodiesel on a national level would require the production of 800 MMly (211 MMgy) for the on-road sector. In 2006, Canada produced 100 MMly (26 MMgy) up from only 10 MMly (2.6 MMgy) in 2005.

A major setback requiring remediation, before nationwide mandates of B5 can take effect, is the lack of a fully developed biodiesel blending and distribution infrastructure. It has been recognized that the necessary first step is emphasizing the development of greater biodiesel production to meet increasing demands. This is evident with the variety of government incentives for biodiesel producers however, in order to meet increased future demand, it is necessary to make biodiesel readily available for public use at the lowest possible cost.

A recent Sine Nomine study for Canada's biodiesel infrastructure needs highlights the specific challenges and solutions to biodiesel distribution and recommends a scenario for infrastructure systems that allows the product to flow smoothly from producers to end-users. In this study, three steps are outlined in the creation of an effective biodiesel infrastructure, including storage, blending and transportation.

While transporting B100 in Canada for blending, dedicated, insulated and heated equipment is required, regardless of the mode of transportation, because of its lower relative cloud point. In a well-developed biodiesel market the most cost-effective strategy involves storing B100 in "primary terminals," with access to all the necessary equipment (dedicated, insulated and heated tanks; fuel in-line injection blending systems). The first two steps in the process, storage and blending, will occur at the primary terminal. This ensures maximum quality control of the end product. The entire downstream distribution process, including secondary terminals, would be concerned with biodiesel blends only ranging from B5 to B20 and would not require special dedicated equipment. Current blending such as in-tank or splash blending at on-site locations does not guarantee a high-quality product. The suggested scenario effectively leaves the challenges and risks of handling B100 to the professionals.

While the most effective configuration for a biodiesel infrastructure is clear, the question now is how to institute this process in the private market. The Sine Nomine study points out that government support for infrastructure through incentives, is only one solution toward developing a comprehensive transportation capacity. The most effective strategy for developing greater infrastructure is to encourage a high demand for the product. Demand can be achieved through mandating the use of biodiesel within public transportation fleets, or establishing competitive prices and users who believe in the product's quality, effectiveness and safety. Increased demand will put pressure on the petroleum companies to develop increased infrastructure capabilities.

While the biodiesel industry is constantly growing, it is still fairly immature in Canada. One avenue for tremendous industry growth will be the transportation sector, due to its heavy dependence on diesel fuels. Studies such as the Saskatoon BioBus Project are integral to creating stable growth. With increased knowledge comes increased quality and in turn increased demand. For Canada to continue moving ahead with reducing GHG emissions it is imperative for government, industry, and consumers to work together to improve the economic and technical feasibility of biodiesel use in the transportation sector.

Ryan Deska is a Biofuels Canada magazine staff writer. Reach him at or (519) 576-4500. This feature was reprinted from the February/March 2008 issue.
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