Converting a corporate fleet to biofuels is one way to reduce emissions, and improve your corporate social responsibility. Biofuels are not a panacea by any means, but can be locally grown, locally processed, and are completely renewable, helping to break your company’s addiction to oil.
It’s not just good for the environment–biodiesel is getting the attention of large businesses such as UPS, which began using it at their hub in Louisville, Kentucky not just as a PR measure but a business necessity. Said UPS spokesperson Scott Wicker, “There is a finite amount of petroleum-based fuel available…[and using biodiesel] helps us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels…”
Here’s the top four questions, what you need to know, and how to go about it.
- What is biodiesel, exactly? Biodiesel, chemically, is known as Fatty Acid Methyl Ester. It’s a product of a process using vegetable oil and alcohol, and performs almost identically to diesel fuel. Biodiesel is not vegetable oil (many cars can run on vegetable oil, if adequately modified, but the product is very different, biologically and chemically). Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, used cooking oil, or other fats, but not from engine oil or petroleum.
- Can any vehicle use biodiesel? Only cars that operate on diesel fuel, such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Mercedes diesels, and many light and heavy duty pickup trucks, can use biodiesel. Putting biodiesel fuel into a car that needs unleaded gas will have a simliar result to putting diesel fuel in the tank. In other words, not good!
- What about blends? Biodiesel can be blended with diesel fuel in any proportion without a loss of performance. This is what you see when you see a product labeled B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel), or B100 (100% biodiesel). The only real advantage of conventional diesel fuel is better performance in freezing weather. Thus, in colder climates in the winter time, blends such as B20 are advised. In warmer weather, B100 is basically indistinguishable from diesel in terms of performance.
- Where can we buy biodiesel? Surf on over to biodiesel.org for a partial listing of gas stations that serve biodiesel, or do a simple google search for biodiesel in your area. You might be surprised at how readily available it is.
- Any concerns about performance? Biodiesel can be expected to perform at as high a level as diesel fuel in all but freezing conditions, |image2|but there is a consideration when you start using biodiesel on a car that is used to petroleum diesel. The irony is that biodiesel acts almost as a cholesterol clearing mechanism does in your body, and may cause gunked up fuel deposits from the previous fuel to come loose from fuel lines and end up clogging the fuel filter. The cleansing action of biodiesel is better for your vehicle long term, but in the short term, this may mean your fuel filter gets an unusually large pulse of gunk within the first 500 miles of driving on pure biodiesel. Pacific Biodiesel recommends purchasing a fuel filter and carrying it in your trunk so that if you see a loss of performance (slow starts, etc.), you’ll know that it’s your car’s internal parts getting cleaner by purging this gunk into your fuel filter. Change it out, and you should be good to go from then on, with a much cleaner car, and cleaner emissions, too! Pacific Biodiesel also recommends idling the car for a minute upon startup and end-of-driving, slower acceleration from red lights and stop signs, and not letting the tank get below 1/4 full. Of course, these are recommendations made for conventional fuel vehicles, as well, so as noted…a switch to biodiesel is fairly straightforward.
Other benefits of the switch include less hazards for employees, potentially less liability, and good PR. As mentioned, biofuels are not a panacea, but their advantages over traditional petroleum fuels are clear and numerous.
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on Google Plus
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