“Biodiesel and all fuels are organic compounds that can break down biologically, just like food, and that means it has a shelf life”
Alberta’s Renewable Fuels Standard, with an expected implementation date of April 2011, will require a blend of ethanol or biodiesel into commercial fuels.
Farmers need to learn about what this change means and get prepared, says Michael Bevans, a project manager at the AgTech Centre in Lethbridge. “The important thing is to be aware of the standard and to have good communication with suppliers to determine if any changes in approach are necessary.”
Four other provinces, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, have a renewable fuels standard, and the federal government is in the process of implementing a minimum standard for all provinces.
Alberta’s standard is in line with the proposed federal one and will require five per cent ethanol content in gasoline and two per cent renewable diesel content in diesel fuel.
What it means for farmers
The new standard will have implications for purchasing and storing fuel as well as protecting equipment.
Know what you’re buying. Ask your fuel supplier about the specific fuel blend. As middlemen, some suppliers may not know the exact blend, but producers should require that information before an order is made. While the standard requires a two per cent blend per annual volume sold, it does not give an upper blend limit, says Bevans.
“With every purchase it’s important to know what the blend is,” says Bevans. “If the blend is higher than the standard, you may not want to purchase it unless you can confirm that higher blend will not cause any issues depending on how you plan to use it.”
Check warranty implications. Higher blends may lead to warranty concerns for farm equipment. Bevans says some manufacturers will allow up to a B20 (20 per cent biodiesel content) blend, but some will not allow more than a B5 blend.
Check storage implications. “Biodiesel and all fuels are organic compounds that can break down biologically, just like food, and that means it has a shelf life,” says Bevans. “Producers need to be clear on what the blend is and how long they can store that blend.”
Producers also need to talk with their dealers on how seasonal equipment should be stored, keeping in mind the fuel standard and blends, he says. “The dealer will also be able to advise about using additives.”
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development has a fuel-storage manual titled “Farm Fuel Storage & Handling,” available through the department library (agdex 769-I).
Consider new fuel renewal approaches. Many producers buy a year’s worth of fuel at one time and like to buy bulk when the price is attractive. Bevans says that with new standards, they may want to have fresh fuel delivered more frequently.
“As a rule of thumb, if you start with a high-quality biodiesel stock without an additive, you have a shelf life of about six months. As a result, you may want to keep your storage maximum at three to five months. If you store anything over that, you run the potential of risks.” Bevans says the best-case scenario is likely to buy ahead and take delivery later.
Determine adjustments for maintaining equipment. Adjustments such as changing fuel filters more frequently may be required. Biodiesel can act as a solvent and will remove buildup from tanks and lines, which can plug filters.
Bevans says the same concerns apply to fuel stored in equipment.
“You need to know how long you can let equipment sit, or what kind of additive you may need to buy to make sure the fuel is stable throughout those times.”
Producers may also want to use finer fuel filters on storage tanks, depending on the answers they get, or just as an added safeguard. “Anytime you can filter fuel better, it’s going to save your fuel system. My advice would be to make sure you use filters with a lower micron rating. You don’t want just a rock trap. Talk to your suppliers or dealers about what they would recommend.”
Bevans says producers should keep asking questions. The key in all cases of preparing for the Renewable Fuel Standard is communication. “The important thing is that producers start talking to their suppliers, their mechanics or their dealerships and remind them this is coming and ask what they know about it and what they are advising producers to do. Dealers or manufacturers have the best information on how it will affect fuel management, equipment and everything related.”
Information on the standard is available on the Alberta Energy website at www.energy.alberta.ca, by typing “Renewable Fuels Standard” into the search box.
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