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RVing with Alice and Jaimie

On the Road Again with Biodiesel, by Alice Zyetz
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Recently you may have seen ads featuring Willie Nelson, songwriter of "On the Road Again" fame and many other classics, fueling his Prevost motor home with his BioWillie biodiesel fuel. ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company) is also advertising heavily that they are building a 50-million gallon biodiesel facility. Thanks to Willie and ADM, the concept of biodiesel fuel is no longer in the shadows.

Fuel cost is a big issue for RVers, and particularly for diesel users. Their fuel used to be priced lower than regular gasoline, and now it is higher than premium gas. RVers tend to be more aware of limited natural resources. Those who dry camp -- or "boondock" -- try to make their fresh water and holding tanks last for up to two weeks. The concept of a fuel based on renewable resources found in America, and thus reducing our dependence on foreign oil, is attractive. It would also be a boon to local economies.


In contrast to petrodiesel fuel, which comes from petroleum, biodiesel fuel comes from oilseed crops like soybeans and canola. It can also be produced from animal fats and recycled cooking grease. But do not go rushing down to your corner fast-food restaurant and haul away the oil their French fries were cooked in and dump it into your tank. According to the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), "fuel-grade biodiesel must be produced to strict industry specifications in order to ensure proper performance."

Biodiesel is produced through a chemical process that involves a number of steps resulting in two products: the biodiesel (called methyl esters) and glycerin, which is used for soap and other products.
Biodiesel is graded according to the amount of petrodiesel fuel that has been blended in. B100 means 100% is biodiesel. B20 is 20% biodiesel and 80% petrodiesel. At this time, tax incentives are being given to the blended products. As a result, even the purists who normally would produce B100 are producing B99 to take advantage of the tax incentives.


Traditional diesel engines do not have to be modified.


The advantages of biodiesel are many.


The biggest disadvantage is the limited availability of the fuel. RVers who travel from one place to another cannot rely on where they will find the next biodiesel fuel stop. Use the Web to find information and locations of retail sites. However, the industry is young, and it is definitely growing. If consumers start pressuring the big fuel chains like Flying J and Love's, they will be more likely to install biodiesel pumps nationwide.

Another disadvantage is that so far -- even with tax incentives -- the price is still higher than the price for petrodiesel. Much of that price is due to federal and state regulatory considerations to produce the fuel. The cost of the raw product is minimal. Nationally we are beginning to get serious about replacing petroleum as our main energy source. As we increase our commitment to renewable sources, we can reduce the cost of the biodiesel fuel.

Our own Jaimie Hall happened to come across a station in her travels that sold biodiesel fuel. She said, "I would be willing to pay the extra cost if it were more available since it is better for our environment." Customers at Carl's Corner Truck Stop have appreciated a reduction in price, but are especially pleased that their fuel economy has improved.


When biodiesel is used, some people notice an odor similar to French fries cooking. Although not the most pleasant smell, if you have ever stood by the tail pipe when the petrodiesel engine first starts, you would welcome the smell of French fries.

A situation noted by RVer Jim Kitts and commonly found in the literature is that biodiesel seems to be very effective at scrubbing the entire fuel system. A major difficulty is that, on older rigs, algae builds up within the system, particularly in the tank, and biodiesel loosens this. The resulting "gunk" then fouls the fuel filters (and sometimes the injectors) causing engine starvation. Jim adds, "Once the system is clean, people report no problems. My friends run biodiesel every fourth or fifth thankful, and they run their rigs a lot for towing and general construction."

Another issue is that in northern climates, biodiesel sometimes jells and will cause major fuel delivery problems. In warm weather and in warm climates this has not been reported as a problem.

Next> Make Your Own Biodiesel?

Alice Zyetz

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