Experts Dispel Myths About Soy Biodiesel

What you hear may be fiction, not fact. Tom J. Bechman

Published on: Aug 7, 2006

A group of renewable fuel experts gathered at the Johnson County Fair recently for panel discussions on soy biodiesel and ethanol. One of the subjects that rose to the surface was myths about biodiesel- separating fact from fiction.

Here are some of the common myths, busted by experts qualified by their experience and expertise in the industry.

Myth # 1: We'll end up with a blue haze in the area where trucks warm up on cold mornings if we shift to soy biodiesel.

Busted! "It's just the opposite," says Mike Clark, director of transportation for Monroe County Schools, including the City of Bloomington. His current fleet consists of 114 buses, all running on B20 soy biodiesel. "The truth is that you get the blue haze when diesel engines warm up on regular diesel fuel. Switching to a B20 blend has eliminated our blue haze problem. Even the drivers comment that they don't have to put up with smoky, hazy air in and around our transportation building on cold mornings when we start the buses and let them warm up."

Myth # 2: Biodiesel just won't work in winter months.

Busted! "Our B2 and B5 premium fuels perform as well in winter as our premium traditional fuel," says Larry Kinzer of Countrymark Co-op. "If the customer 'specs' B20 biodiesel right and it contains the proper winter additives, B20 blends will perform just as well or better, too."

One of the secrets is being careful about specifications for the fuel you want for each season of the year, Clark adds. "We want at least a 50 octane fuel, and in the winter, we demand that proper winter additives be included. We haven't had the first problem, not even on the coldest mornings. Coming from me that means a lot, because I was one of the biggest skeptics around. I was pushed into trying it mainly due to environmental pressure in our area. Now I can't imagine running our buses on anything else."

Myth #3: Biodiesel is just not good for diesel engines.

Busted! "This may be the biggest myth of all, but it's just not true," says Ed Friel, vice-president of marketing for Cummins Mid-State Power, Inc., Indianapolis. His job is making sure that trucks run, making customers happy. "Cummins as a company endorses B5, and the company is just waiting on approval from ASTM, an industry sanctioning body, to endorse B20. The fuel simply works fine and doesn't harm the engine."

In fact Clark says engines should last longer because the fuel burns so clean. "We're stretching out our maintenance intervals between oil changes and filter changes because the mechanics say the oil is so much cleaner," he says. "We pull samples for analysis, and our tests back them up. We're saving money in less maintenance."

Myth #4: Running biodiesel will clog my fuel filter.

Busted! Actually, that may happen…for the first fill-up or so, says John Whittington, co-owner of Integrity Biofuels, Morristown. "But it's not because glycerin, a contaminant, gets by us and gets in your fuel. It's simply because pure soy methyl ether is an excellent solvent. It's going to clean things up, including gunk that was already in your engine."

"We went through that for about the first week on a bus or two," Clark says. "But it was getting crud out of the system that was already in there - it wasn't from the biodiesel. Once your system is cleaned up, you don't need to change filters nearly as often as with regular fuel."

Myth #5: There won't be enough biodiesel to meet supply if I switch to it.

Busted! "We're confident that our industry will meet supply, especially as new plants such as those in Indiana come on line," says Belinda Peutz, marketing director for the Indiana Soybean Board/Indiana Corn Growers Association. "We actually see it as a good situation. Food manufacturers are shifting away from soybean oil because of trans fatty acid concerns. The demand for biodiesel will pick up some of that supply."