Alternative Fuel Choices Limited For Construction Equipment

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | August 2009 Vol. 64 No. 8

Willi does not expect other alternative fuels to have an impact on the utility construction market any time soon.

"Propane and methanol don't make sense," he said. "Across the board in all types of construction equipment, biodiesel usage is tied to availability and economics. The only other fuel that could have an impact is liquefied natural gas. It is being used in on road vehicles, but at present mainly in spark ignited engines. It has the advantage of being less expensive, but storage tanks and protective equipment are costly. There are different ways to burn natural gas in an engine, but at present for the construction equipment with diesels, it probably is not a practical fuel."

Ultimately, said Willi, there must be an economic driver to encourage change to alternative fuels. The fuels that will make sense will offer low cost ways to lower carbon footprints and/or comply with laws designed to drive their use.

Willi is an engineering technical team leader in the energy and sustainability division within Caterpillar's Product Development Center of Excellence.

For engines manufactured by John Deere Power Systems, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel recommended. The Deere web site says 5 percent biodiesel blends are preferred, but biodiesel concentrations up to 20 percent blended in petroleum diesel fuel can be used in all John Deere engines, providing the biodiesel used in the fuel blend meets the standards set by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) D6751.

The Deere web site cites these benefits of using biodiesel: "The use of quality biodiesel in John Deere diesel engines has economic and environmental benefits, boosts development in rural areas, and helps provide energy security. Other advantages of quality biodiesel include improved lubricity, reduced sulfur emissions and reduced aromatics. Biodiesel has a high cetane content for faster ignition. It also produces less visible smoke and lowers the amount of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and life cycle carbon dioxide emissions produced by an engine."

For equipment owners considering use of biodiesel blends, EMA's Suchecki said the most important consideration is the engine manufacturer's fuel specification.

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