Whether it’s directly or indirectly, weather can significantly impact day-to-day operations in several ways. In addition, each season throughout the year brings unique challenges that fleet managers must be prepared for and stay on top of to keep operating efficiently.
Winter is just around the corner and with it comes conditions that affect vehicle performance, such as colder temperatures, snow, sleet, and ice. Preparing your fleet for what lies ahead begins with choosing the right biodiesel blend to keep your vehicles running smoothly and your customers provided with the service they expect — no matter the weather or road conditions.
To help you choose the right blend for your fleet and get the most from your biodiesel and your vehicles over the winter months, let’s look at some common questions regarding biodiesel use in colder temperatures.
1. Can biodiesel be used in extreme cold?
There’s a common misconception that biodiesel doesn’t perform well in cold temperatures. The reality is that biodiesel blends up to B20 (20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum) and has been widely used by fleets for over a million miles in below-freezing temperatures. The key to a blend’s performance is the proper handling, blending, and storage as well as the addition of winter fuel additives.
2. How do you determine the right blend for your vehicles?
Cloud Point, the indicator of the tendency of a fuel to form wax crystals when cold and consequently appear cloudy, determines fuel storage temperature and is essential for successful performance. If you have your fueling locations and use blends up to 30% biodiesel and aren’t in frigid climates, heated and insulated tanks are typically unnecessary. But if you’re using B100 and B99, they are.
In extreme cold and if temperatures regularly fall below the Cloud Point, make sure that your above-ground storage and handling systems — pipes, tanks, and pumping equipment — are protected with insulation, heating systems, or by other methods.
If you blend your own fuel, before blending you need to know the cold weather specifications of your base diesel fuel and biodiesel. Next, you need to:
- Blend biodiesel with petroleum diesel while keeping both at least 10° F above their respective Cloud Point. A blending temperature of 70° F is ideal.
- Make sure the hose and supply line are protected from the cold if you’re pumping biodiesel in cold temperatures through a conventional fuel pump.
- Avoid putting biodiesel directly into a cold and empty tank.
3. What properties should you look for?
Cloud Point is a top consideration when choosing biodiesel. Make sure your provider offers Cloud Point options that can be used in different blend ratios and different regions of the country depending upon the season.
Another important property is whether the biodiesel is distilled or undistilled. Distilled means the biodiesel has been through a purification process that removes minor components that can cause issues in cold weather.
4. Is it easy to switch blend levels?
If you’re ordering fuel and empty the tank before you’re ready to switch, that makes it easy since your fuel provider can provide the blend you need. A provider should also have the capability to add fuel to the tank, so you get the specific blend you need. This is especially important when sudden temperature drops are forecast to occur.
Talk With an Expert: Your Fuel Provider
Staying on top of the right fuel blend for the right time can be tricky and time-consuming. Having a good relationship with your fuel provider makes it easier and ensures you get the blend you need when and where you need it. A provider should offer:
- Distilled biodiesel
- Cloud Point choices
- Flexibility in a contract
Nothing changes so frequently like the weather does, so it’s also essential that your provider consistently monitors weather conditions in your area. Suppose temperatures are forecast to plummet suddenly. In that case, your provider should take the necessary action to provide the blend you need before that occurs, ensuring your vehicles are fueled with the right blend and ready to roll.