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Running on Environmentally Friendly B20 Biodiesel

Debunking The Biofuel Myth

May 26, 2015
Photographers: Jason Gonderman
Biodiesel is quite the hot-button topic amongst diesel vehicle owners. Don’t believe us? Spend five minutes on just about any diesel-focused forum or Facebook page. Nothing seems to divide a room quite like the talk of biodiesel. It appears that people are all over the board when it comes to running bio, from not a chance to every tank.
What most people associate with biodiesel is likely home brew, and that is where a lot of the common misconceptions come from. When people produce biodiesel themselves, the quality of the finished product is not guaranteed. This type of fuel can cause issues in newer common-rail engines, which often leads to the horror stories people read on the Internet. It’s not just at home brewers either—issues can develop from fuel produced by co-ops and other medium-output groups as well.
Photo 2/6   |   B20 Fuel Pump
In general, commercially available biodiesel (typically a B20 blend) provides a whole host of advantages for both engines and the environment. Purchasing the fuel from a typical corner station ensures that precise quality standards are met, meaning that running it will do no inadvertent damage. Biodiesel produces less carbon dioxide and monoxide emissions, as well as cutting down on particulate matter, which leads to less frequent particulate filter (DPF) regeneration. It also provides better lubrication (lubricity is a measure of lubrication effectiveness) and a higher cetane rating than petroleum-based diesel. Best of all, at least on the West Coast, it’s priced less than standard #2.
Photo 3/6   |   Bio Diesel Fuel Pricing
So, why all the hate if there are so many positives? One criticism is that biodiesel clogs fuel filters. It is true that in higher mileage diesels, fuel filters will need to be changed more frequently when running biodiesel, but this isn’t because of the fuel itself. This is due to the fact that biodiesel is a better solvent than petrodiesel and actually cleans the built up gunk out of the truck’s fuel tank and system. The higher the concentration of biodiesel, the quicker the tank gets cleaned and filter gets clogged. This leads directly to the second myth of biodiesel, that it provides less power and lower fuel economy. Typically, the cause of this is a clogged fuel filter. Keep the filter clean and you’ll never know there is bio in the tank.
Show and Tell
In an effort to better understand biodiesel, we grabbed a couple trucks—both rated for B20—and set off on an informal test. Why informal, you ask? To truly test the differences would require us to run multiple tanks of both petrodiesel and biodiesel, perform several oil analyses, and even go as far as an engine tear down. All of these tests have been run by independent analysts and the results are available online.
Photo 4/6   |   2014 Ram 2500 Cummins Diesel
For our quick test we selected a ’14 Ram 2500 and ’15 Ford F-450 Super Duty. We chose these two pickups because they both come with a B20 rating, meaning that the manufacturers certify that the trucks’ engines, fueling, and emissions systems will be unaffected by a blend of 20 percent bio and 80 percent old-fashioned #2.
We ran the Ram 2500 with a loaded trailer, first on a tank of petrodiesel and then biodiesel. At first it seemed like the engine was louder when running on B20, but after a few hours it all seemed normal again. We attribute this simply to a placebo effect. We wanted there to be something noticeably different with the new fuel so our brain said it was louder. The reality is after we switched back to #2 the noise level remained the same. Power felt similar as well, and the truck had absolutely no issues hauling the load on level ground or up steep hills. We then ran the Ford F-450 Super Duty unloaded (blasphemy, we know) in normal day-to-day driving conditions. Both tests returned fuel economy numbers that were within a 1/2 mpg of each other, biodiesel to petrodiesel. Regarding fuel system contamination, since our test trucks were both new, their systems were clean to start with and the result was nothing out of the ordinary.
Photo 5/6   |   Power Stroke 6 7 Badge
At the end of it all the B20 biodiesel was less expensive, healthier for the environment, provided better lubrication for our truck’s engine, and returned the same power and economy as regular #2. We’re really hoping this catches on because having the option for bio at every filling station would be awesome!
B100
Pure biodiesel, know as B100, is a totally different animal. While diesel engines will burn it just fine, special care needs to be taken to ensure that hoses and gaskets are compatible. Due to its solvent effect being greater than that of B20, B100 will quickly degrade incompatible rubbers and plastics and contribute to quicker clogging of the fuel filter and even severe fuel system leaks. B100 also has a higher tendency to gel in cold weather, and it can reduce engine power output, clog DPF and EGR systems, and void warranties. B100 is not regulated, and in general, its quality cannot be assured.
Photo 6/6   |   Biodiesel Fuel Pump

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