It’s widely expected that the federal government will impose a mandatory two per cent (B2) biofuel content in all diesel sometime this year; farm fuel will soon be a little different than it is now. But with all the concern around biodiesel’s detergent properties, its tendency to allow bacterial growth in long-term storage and its ability to loosen built-up sludge inside tanks, will that be a problem for farmers who have to store it on the farm?
The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) just finished a 16-month study looking into those and other potential difficulties, and all indications are it will be business as usual for farmers. “It (on-farm storage) did not appear to be a problem,” says Grant McVicar, director of conservation, bio-energy and bioresources at the SRC. “We were quite surprised.”
That is good news for farmers who use storage facilities that have been in place for several years — or several decades. “We tested tanks from new to 20 or 30 years old,” he says. “We tested B5 and B10 levels.” The biodiesel blends were stored in 16 storage tanks and 56 pieces of equipment on eight farms over the course of the study, both short and long term. And machinery was stored in the offseason with biofuel blends in tanks without any special precautions. As it turned out, the blends didn’t cause any problems at all under any of the typical farm-use conditions.
And it’s no accident that Saskatchewan was chosen as the location for this test, according to McVicar. “We have the widest temperature variation in the country,” he says. With all the moisture last summer, there was a wide range of humidity levels as well. “We hit the complete spectrum.” The findings should be valid anywhere in the country.
The study, which was one of several conducted before the proposed B2 standard was able to move forward, now helps pave the way for implementation. But Canada has been slow to follow suit behind many other countries who have had mandatory biofuel content requirements for a long time, particularly the U.S. and European countries, such as Germany. “Europe has been doing this since 1988,” notes Zenneth Faye, executive manager of Milligan Bio-Tech Inc. at Foam Lake, Sask.
Despite the delay, the latest round of testing has paid dividends, according to McVicar. Particularly because Canada has one of the most extreme climates of any country to implement such a rule. Faye agrees extra testing was necessary. “Some of the drastic (weather) changes we get in Saskatchewan, we don’t see in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria where biodiesel is most popular,” he says.
Even though biodiesel has already been extensively tested elsewhere, Faye notes there was resistance by the petroleum industry to adopt the B2 standard in Canada without further evaluation, here. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he adds. “But you have to realize the petroleum industry is on the hook at the end of the day. That’s why they need to be cautious.”
The rush to implement a biofuel standard in the U.S. has led to sporadic difficulties in the transition there, something Faye thinks Canada will now be able to avoid by paying more attention to maintaing manufacturing standards. The study found producing high quality fuel was key to avoiding problems. “It’s not just the quality of the biodiesel, it’s the (standard of) petroleum diesel as well,” comments McVicar.
And Faye notes Canadian refiners will be producing a very high quality biodiesel blend. “The standards have been tightened up,” he says. “New standards are now being proposed that will raise them even higher. Everyone is learning in the biodiesel industry.”
CANOLA-BASED OIL PREFERRED
Using a biodiesel blend offers the ability to improve the characteristics of regular petroleum fuel. Since the conversion to ultra-low sulphur diesel, refiners have had to include additives to maintain adequate lubricity. But using a biodiesel blend could make that unnecessary. “It may mean they no longer need to use the current lubricity additives,” notes McVicar. That might help reduce the cost of blending biodiesel.
While biodiesel can be made from a variety of feedstocks ranging from oilseeds to animal fats, not all of it is equal in performance. That is particularly true when it comes to cold weather use. Canola-based fuel has proven to be one of the best when it comes to cold flow. In some cases it can remain serviceable in temperatures as low as -13 C without treatment.
Does that mean Prairie canola growers will see demand for their crops soar. “I hope so,” says Faye. “Canola is the one (refiners) will likely prefer.” But both Faye and McVicar agree price will likely be the determining factor. “At the end of the day, it’s a commodity,” says Faye. “It’s going to depend on cost.”
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Canola-based fuel has proven to be
one of the best when it comes to cold flow