"It is going to lead to having larger capacity filters or shorter service intervals, because there is definitely a relationship there," says Hall.
Again, both of these issues are mitigated at the lower blend levels.
As the percentage of biodiesel increases in the fuel, so do the necessary precautions for storage and maintenance.
"We have very clear guidelines as to how you should treat the fuel, as well as service the [equipment]. Watch the amount of water in the fuel. Don't let it sit idle for longer periods of time. Carefully monitor the condition of your oil," Hall advises. "If you follow those guidelines, I don't think there will be any impact on [equipment] performance. But you do have to pay much more attention to that than you would with petroleum-based diesel."
This is because biodiesel is more prone to water absorption. "So care must be taken in order to remove water from the fuel system, because water accelerates microbial contamination and growth," says Stearns.
Hall recommends draining water out of the fuel/water separators on a more regular basis. "It is just an education process here that we want customers to be aware of so they don't get caught with clogged filters, lower performance or rusting in the fuel system," he states. "We have a procedure that we specify they follow if they want to use biodiesels."
Ultimately, tax incentives may prove to be the major market driver behind adoption of renewable biodiesel blends.
"There are obvious tax incentives, depending upon what state you are operating in," says Stearns.
And more could be in the works. "There is talk of some really nice incentives if they could use biofuels," says Hall. "That certainly would have to happen in order for our customers to get really highly motivated. We are really looking for the federal government to take some actions here."
In terms of outright pricing, the difference fluctuates. "B20 currently sells anywhere from the same price as diesel up to $.20 more a gallon," says Pearson. "How competitive it is with diesel depends largely on the price of oil."
"If oil prices are going to stay where they are right now, it is kind of a wash on the price of biodiesel and the price of regular diesel," notes Stearns. "But if we get in another situation like we did last summer when diesel was up over $3/gal., then there is obvious economic sense."
A promising outlook
Right now, everyone has a vested interest in the success of biodiesel, and the future does look promising. Still, equipment manufacturers urge caution with higher blends.
"We have spent a lot of money and time over the last couple of years testing at the B20 level to absolutely confirm whether there are any [equipment] modifications required," says Borgman. "That is ongoing work and we do not have the results of that yet. It would obviously be our desire to recommend at higher levels, but we need solid test data that we have absolute confidence in."
Once those results come in, biodiesel is positioned to play an even more significant role, particularly as the industry matures and new technology becomes available.
"At this point in time, I think it would be foolish for any of us to say there is an absolute cap or ceiling," says Borgman. "This is a very new industry. There are some very promising things going on out there."
Ensure a Quality Fuel Supply
But there are a couple of steps you can take to ensure a quality fuel supply. "We strongly recommend you use only a biodiesel blend that comes from a BQ-9000 supply chain - both the biodiesel refinery where it is manufactured, as well as the distributor that brings your fuel out to the work site," says Don Borgman, Deere & Co. It must also meet the ASTM D 6751 specification for biodiesel.
"Although there are currently about two dozen BQ-9000 accredited producers and marketers, they represent 40% of the industry's capacity," says Amber Thurlo Pearson at the National Biodiesel Board. "Asking around or calling the BQ-9000 companies directly (www.BQ-9000.org) to find out where to get their product can help ensure your fuel meets ASTM D 6751. Further, the National Biodiesel Board is working with appropriate state and federal officials on proactively enforcing any biodiesel fuel quality issues." (Visit www.biodiesel.org for a fuel quality guide.)