Fuel Talk

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | September 2008 Vol. 63 No. 9

Energy paints a complicated picture. Everybody’s got an opinion, but most are centered around getting prices back down; especially for gasoline but also for gas and electric. And the construction industry is caught in the middle.

For years, construction equipment emissions from powerful diesel and gasoline engines have been targeted as heavy polluters. The program to steadily decrease those emissions through the “tier” program have reduced pollution from the construction industry.

Off-road engine manufacturers have been doing an amazing job of making each “tier” threshold – usually ahead of schedule and exceeding performance requirements. A bonus is that often those new engines are more fuel efficient while maintaining or even increasing power and productivity.

But that increased fuel efficiency is a by-product. The purpose of the tier compliance program was aimed at emissions. Most major pieces of construction equipment still use diesel. Fuel efficiency has rarely been the primary design goal when building construction equipment. Now, that all has to change.

There have been some efforts to convert specific pieces of equipment to flexfuel or even hybrids. But those efforts have been spotty at best and the research and development into fuel efficient engines is just now catching fire.

I have no doubt, however, that major off-road engine manufacturers such as Deere, Cat and Case, will rapidly adapt to higher fuel prices with better performing machines capable of utilizing different types of fuel. But the pressure is on to accomplish that sooner rather than later.

Corn, corn everywhere, but at what cost?

Speaking of alternative fuels, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers recently sided with the EPA in a ruling against a request by Texas Governor Rick Perry. He was seeking a 50 percent waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for ethanol production.

AEM said it agreed with the EPA reasoning that there was not enough evidence to support Texas' claim that the RFS is causing undue economic harm. Texas filed the request earlier this year with EPA.

AEM listed many reasons for siding with the EPA. Some of those reasons make sense, but others are questionable. Of course, there is the fundamental question: since when has the EPA become an expert in agriculture? Much of their decision was based upon studies and trends in the ag industry.

Two AEM points stood out. First, that an RFS standard reduction would harm the environment because ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline.