24 September 2004

SunDiesel: Automakers Give Biodiesel a Boost 

Environmental activists and farmers have been the primary advocates fueling the demand for biodiesel, but newfound interest from automakers could ignite the movement to replace the petrol in your gas tank with fuel made from plants.

Biodiesel is commonly made from soybean, vegetable or rapeseed oil, and can be used by vehicles with diesel engines. The consumption of biodiesel in the United States grew from 15 million gallons in 2002 to 25 million gallons in 2003, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Buses and trucks used the overwhelming majority of biodiesel, largely because until recently Volkswagen was the only auto manufacturer selling diesel passenger vehicles in the United States.

Big Five auto manufacturer DaimlerChrysler recently took steps to seed consumer interest in biodiesel. The company said this month that it would fill the tanks of all its new Chrysler Jeep Liberty vehicles with biodiesel. DaimlerChrysler will fill the vehicles with B5, which mixes 5 percent biodiesel with diesel fuel.

DaimlerChrysler believes that biodiesel could provide up to 20 percent of the fuel for diesel vehicles in Europe, according to prepared statements released Thursday by Herbert Kohler, head of vehicle body and drive systems at the company. Kohler said DaimlerChrysler is helping to create a new biodiesel fuel using biomass, including wood, straw and corn waste.

DaimlerChrysler has joined with competitor Volkswagen and fuel developer Choren Industries to produce SunDiesel, which would reduce particulate emissions by 50 percent, according to the companies. Kohler said developing biodiesel “is integral to the company’s Energy for the Future initiative” for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. The group produced its first liter of SunDiesel in 2003, and according to DaimlerChrysler, the fuel can be used in any diesel engine without modification.

DaimlerChrysler achieved success with the release of its first diesel vehicle for the U.S. market in six years, the Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI sedan, which came out in April 2004. The company sold out its initial allotment of 3,000 vehicles, and an additional supply of 1,000 vehicles has been purchased, according to DaimlerChrysler spokesman Florian Martens.

“We wanted to give diesel a shot, and now we see that the public perception (of diesel vehicles as dirty) is changing,” Martens said.

General Motors will be increasing its support of biodiesel in the near future, according to GM fleet account executive for government, Brad Beauchamp. He said that the warranties for all GM vehicles with diesel engines would be updated to allow for the use of B20 (fuel composed of 20 percent biodiesel mixed with regular diesel) and as soon as a standard is passed. Beauchamp said ASTM International is expected to ratify a B20 standard within a few months.

“While we have seen no trouble in using B20, we are waiting to change our warranties until the fuel quality is consistent enough … so that we feel comfortable that it won’t damage the engine,” Beauchamp said. Biodiesel offers additional power and lower emissions than standard diesel, according to Beauchamp.

“All of the major automotive manufacturers are struggling to find new ways to meet ever-increasing European and North American emissions and fuel-economy standards, and it appears that biodiesel is the most tangible option available right now,” according to Dan Kahn, road test editor for automotive website Edmunds.com.

Kahn said that GM and DaimlerChrysler are the only large automakers who are actively testing biodiesel blends in their vehicles. “The biggest hurdle these companies still have to deal with is convincing North American car buyers that diesel technology has come a long way since the noisy and smelly old Mercedes of decades past,” he said.

“Biodiesel just makes sense,” Kahn said. He said car companies looking to sell to environmentally conscious buyers will develop either diesel vehicles or hybrid cars, but not both. “VW (Volkswagen) isn’t going after hybrids … and Toyota is dedicated to hybrids,” Kahn said. He said consumers who are tired of waiting for the Toyota Prius hybrid (currently a six- to nine-month wait) may opt for a VW Passat TDI diesel sedan and fill it with biodiesel. “It’s truly an environmental answer to the Prius.”

According to Kahn, more biodiesel-fueling stations have to be created for interest in biodiesel to grow. “People have had to go out of their way to find it.”

Biodiesel will soon become more available in the Southwest, thanks to a new commercial biodiesel-distribution terminal. Blue Sun Biodiesel will open a blending facility Oct. 14 in Alamosa, Colorado. The new hub will provide up to 180,000 gallons of biodiesel per day, which will be delivered via tanker and railroad cars, according to Blue Sun president and CEO Jeff Probst.

While the fuel will primarily be used to fuel government and private fleets of vehicles, Probst hopes that the new distribution center will prompt the opening of more retail biodiesel fuel stations. Probst said there are currently 15 retail biodiesel outlets in Colorado, and a new pump will open in New Mexico in October.

Probst said that these retail locations could satisfy consumers with varied interests because biodiesel addresses environmental issues, is better for the vehicles and reduces dependence on foreign oil. “It’s for the rednecks as well as the tree huggers.”

(Vgl. Meldung vom 2003-10-08.)

Source: www.wired.com Sept. 23, 2004.

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