Clean Burning

By Ron Kotrba | June 14, 2011

In my estimation, there is probably no application with greater potential for biodiesel than the off-road markets. The multibillion gallon U.S. heating oil market is a candidate, but then there is what some call the “real” off-road markets: tractors and combines, locomotives, marine vessels, stationary (or mobile) gensets, countless types of forestry equipment, loaders—the list goes on.

Just like the drastic reductions in emissions that have taken place over the past decade for new on-road diesels, thanks to regulations set by U.S. EPA, off-road diesels are on the path to the same greener fate. Implementation dates are staggered for the various off-road sectors, but once they are phased in completely, the not-so-distant future holds a clean-air promise from all newly manufactured on- and off-road diesels. That means the near elimination of the black soot commonly associated with diesels, as well as nitrogen oxides (NOx), a smog-forming pollutant. The new off-road emission reductions will require the use of low and ultra-low sulfur fuels, not only to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, but chiefly so expensive catalysts used in aftertreatment systems aren’t fouled. The growing, positive body of work on how biodiesel interacts with these devices will certainly help ease people’s minds about using biodiesel-blended fuels in the presence of aftertreatment systems.

These upcoming emissions reductions are great for the environment, but once in effect, the regulations will only apply to new models. Diesels last a very long time. It is reasonable to think it could take 50 years or more to replace the pre-existing fleet. There are retrofit programs if environment-conscious farmers, loggers, contractors, engineers, ship captains or others in the off-road sector wish to voluntarily reduce their equipment’s carbon footprint. These programs would help install particulate filters and NOx abatement devices (e.g., SCR systems) to drive down emissions and drive up its greener image.

Certainly, incorporation of biodiesel is a seamless game-changer in reducing off-road fleet emissions. Biodiesel reduces particulate matter by nearly 50 percent compared to petroleum diesel. Total hydrocarbon emissions from biodiesel are 67 percent less. Carbon monoxide drops nearly 50 percent.

Sulfur emissions are virtually wiped out since biodiesel is a sulfur-free fuel. Health effects testing has shown cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and the nitrated variety of PAH, were decreased by 75 to 85 percent, except for benzo(a)anthracene, which was reduced by half. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the most clichéd line about biodiesel exhaust ever: it smells like French fries.

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