Business and change seem to be interchangeable. The economy goes up then falls into recession. Demand for certain equipment peaks at specific seasons. Governmental agencies change requirements and encourage new kinds of energy sources.
Along with the rest of society, engine and equipment manufacturers are investigating ways to decrease their reliance on petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. What exactly are alternative fuels, and what do they mean for rental centers and the equipment they rent? Here's what three engine makers had to say.
What and why?
The term alternative fuel can refer to a variety of products. "Alternative fuels are anything other than the traditional gasoline or diesel fuel," explains Edward Lyford-Pike, chief engineer of advanced alternative fuels for Cummins Inc. "These can be gaseous or liquids and come from renewable or nonrenewable sources."
Cummins has made significant investments to investigate all forms of alternative fuels. "The major emphasis has been on natural gas and biofuels, specifically biodiesel," he says. "Biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel or renewable diesel, are the main alternative fuel viable for the construction market now and in the near future. There are some indoor applications where natural gas or propane are used, such as for small forklifts."
William Durant, vice president and general manager of Hatz Diesel of America, adds, "For diesel engines, alternative fuels would be bio-fuels per ASTM specifications. These are blended with regular diesel fuels."
Hatz is investigating fuel blends containing higher percentages of bio-fuel and lower amounts of diesel that won't harm diesel injection components. "Alternative fuels will continue to be an important source of fuel versus using oil-based fuels," Durant predicts.
For John Deere Power Systems (JDPS), alternative fuels mean non-petroleum fuels such as biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas and propane. "John Deere continually researches alternative fuels," Doug Laudick, manager of product planning, says. "For example, we have been researching ethanol, compressed natural gas, electric hybrid, cellulosic fuel and biodiesel for many years."
He continues, "JDPS, along with most off-highway diesel engine manufacturers, allows equipment operators to use biodiesel in varying concentrations, providing that users follow strict quality standards. In fact, the fuel John Deere fills within its factories is B5 biodiesel."
The reasons for all this research include customer demand and governmental pressures. "Most of this investigation is due to customer demand as well as to the increasing number of incentives and mandates from the government," Lyford-Pike notes. "We have also seen an increase in the distribution and certification/quality standards of biofuels, which have led to increased use."
He adds, "Customer demand can be due to economics, such as users trying to cut operational costs (fuel economy depends on a number of factors, though), or it could be a desire to be 'green' and trying to reduce a company's carbon footprint by using a renewable fuel."
Laudick points out, "As the market continues to be increasingly conscientious of the environment, we are hearing more customers ask about what alternative fuels will be available in the future. Additionally, it is likely that new emissions regulations will come into effect over the next few years, and we have been researching alternative fuel options in anticipation of this. However, our research indicates that diesel continues to be the most efficient fuel for off-highway applications today."
The future is now
According to these experts, alternative fuels use is not just something that will happen in the future. These fuels are already in use in equipment similar to what you might rent today, but the shift might be gradual.
"Alternative fuels will be used in all segments of the industrial and construction markets," Durant says.