Much has been published about the economic and environmental advantages of biofuels but less has been written about their application to the construction industry.
Biofuels are not a modern development, for a diesel engine running on peanut oil was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition. More recently, this past November two Britons drove a truck fueled by chocolate — or more accurately cocoa butter obtained by melting down misshapen candies — to Timbuktu in Mali, west Africa, as a demonstration of the use of alternative “green” fuels. Their four week, 4,500 mi. journey took them across the Sahara Desert in a trek fueled by 454 gallons of biodiesel manufactured from more than 8,800 lbs. of rejected products from British factories manufacturing confectionery or roughly the equivalent of 80,000 bars of chocolate.
Here in the United States, the benefits of biofuel are well known to D.H.S. Contracting Inc., a Long Island based excavating company run by the husband and wife team of Donald and Karen Ann Stiriz.
When and why did D.H.S Contracting decide to convert to using biofuel in its equipment?
“In the spring we were thinking about the rising cost of diesel fuel and its effect on the prices of our jobs. If we were able to make this new biofuel all the environmentalists are talking about then we would be more competitive in pricing and contribute to a cleaner earth,” Karen Stiriz said. “After weeks of research on the Internet, newspapers and books we came to the conclusion we would find a local distributor with a product that was up to the standards the government recommended.”
D.H.S. contacted Island Biofuel in Center Moriches, N.Y., which had been using biofuel in its own trucks and equipment for more than a year with no complications.
“The owners and their staff came to my shop and we had a presentation of their product for seven or eight contractors and trucking companies that I had invited,” Stiriz said. “We found out Island Biofuel was a family-owned and operated company just like we are. They were very informative.”
She arranged this presentation by Island Biofuel so other companies looking for an alternative fuel would have the opportunity to listen and ask questions. “By the end of that meeting all the questions were answered and within about a month, six of the eight were using biofuel in either trucks or construction equipment,” she recalled.
At the time D.H.S. received its first delivery of biofuel, the cost of diesel fuel including government tax was $2.94 per gallon versus Biofuel 99% at $2.81 per gallon. “We felt the difference would be worth it to help the environment and the way the price of diesel was rising it would be cheaper in just a few months,” Stiriz said.
Biodiesel/conventional diesel mixes on the market include B2 (2 percent biodiesel/98 percent conventional diesel) and B20 (20 percent biodiesel/80 percent conventional diesel) while l00 percent biodiesel is known as B100. Biofuel 99% is a mix with only l percent conventional diesel in its makeup.
The first delivery of biofuel to D.H.S. Contracting was made on April 19, 2007. “That afternoon they fueled up our 1989 Mack tractor and the excitement began!” Stiriz said. “The next morning a couple of our employees took the tractor out to move a piece of equipment and when they got back, we all wanted to know if they noticed a difference. Their reply was they were hungry, caused by the smell of the exhaust.”
The reason? Biofuel made from used cooking oil emits the smell of french fries when burnt. As Karen Stiriz noted, this is definitely an improvement over regular diesel exhausts.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) three billion gallons of used cooking oil are generated by American restaurants and hotels each year. When this particular ingredient is used in biofuel manufacture the cost is lowered significantly because three-quarters of the pump price comes from the raw material employed.
After biofuel’s successful trial run, D.H.S Contracting tried it in another truck every few days, until the entire fleet had been converted to its use. A month later the company began using it in its backhoes and bulldozers.
Only minor adjustments were necessary.
D.H.S. changed the filters on its fuel pumps to a smaller micron filter to remove smaller particles than the standard filter used by the industry.
“The after-effect of using biofuel is the engine gunk gets cleaned out, which caused a few clogged fuel filters, but for the first month or so we carried a spare filter and wrench in the trucks,” Stiriz said. “However, we have only had to change them once on the road since switching to biofuel.”
According to the Biofuel Handbook (2004), it also may be necessary to replace rubber hoses and gaskets on older vehicles, as biodiesel tends to degrade fittings made of this material.
The couple also has converted their home to biofuel. “It needed just a few adjustments and a different filter, and there were no problems through the spring and summer,” Stiriz said. “As the cold approached we had the burner adjusted a little more, but this is a learning process for all of us.”
Biodiesel can gel in low temperatures and D.H.S. has also adjusted its mixture of biofuel and diesel to prevent equipment freeze-up during the colder weather.
The advantages of biofuel for vehicles and construction equipment are not restricted to the economies presented by its use or its attractiveness as a “green” fuel. The United States currently imports more than half its stock of petroleum, using two-thirds to run vehicles.
In addition to lessening the environmental impact of petroleum-based fuels, the domestic manufacture of biofuels makes the country less vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of overseas oil. Also, its use aids American farmers who grow the raw material used to produce biofuel. In 2006, the United States manufactured some 250 million gal. of biodiesel, predominantly from soybean oil, compared with almost 1.5 billion gallons produced in the European Union, which mainly uses rapeseed oil.
As for the chocolate-fueled truck, despite sandstorms and customs difficulties, it made its long journey to Timbuktu safely and was left in Mali, along with the two vehicles that accompanied it. The truck will be used to haul cement or flour and the companion pair are to be used by operators of tours. The biodiesel conversion unit the team carried with them has been donated to a village. Now the two adventurers plan to drive a biofueled vehicle to China. CEG
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