Study Finds Biodiesel Blend Can Handle Prairie Winter

Anew study on biodiesel performance has found you can go green – even on a frosty winter day.

Tractors and other farm equipment using fuel containing as much as 10 per cent biodiesel operated normally even when the temperature dipped to -36 C, according to a study conducted by the Saskatchewan Research Council.

“The study included an entire cycle of farm equipment use, including a lengthy off-season storage period,” said Grant McVicar, director of energy conservation for the council, an independent, third-party research organization.

“Throughout the study, fuel quality was closely monitored in tractors, combines, swathers and on-farm bulk fuel storage facilities.”

New federal regulations, which go into effect on July 1, 2011, will require all diesel and heating oil to have an average renewable content of two per cent.

But the effect of cold temperatures is a concern for anyone operating equipment with diesel engines. All fuels have a cloud point, the temperature at which solid crystals begin to form in the fuel, causing blockage in fuel filters and choking off the supply of fuel to the engine. This is why oil companies produce both “summer” and “winter” diesel – the latter having a lower cloud point (and therefore able to endure much lower temperatures before crystals form). However, biodiesel typically has a higher cloud point than regular diesel and is more susceptible to this problem.

But the Saskatchewan Research Council found no problems when it tested blends containing anywhere from two to 10 per cent canola-based biodiesel.

The study was conducted at Foam Lake, Saskatchewan from August 2009 to November 2010 on a range of equipment manufactured from 1965 to 2009. During the study period, temperatures ranged from -36 C to 31 C.

Eight farmers participated in the study and more than 50 pieces of farm equipment were tested. The equipment ranged from sub-100-horsepower yard tractors to +500-horsepower, four-wheel-drive tractors, as well as combines and swathers. Several engine brands and types were represented, and there were no modifications to equipment, fuel storage facilities, or fuel-handling practices. As part of the test, fuel was left in tanks from harvest end to harvest beginning the following year and no performance problems were found.

A fact sheet and Frequently Asked Questions booklet can be found at www.biodiesel-info.ca.

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