Bringing biodiesel on the market

Fuel costs and India’s reliance on foreign fuel sources are a constant concern for many construction owners whose businesses are heavily dependent on machinery that requires diesel. Many alternate energy sources have been discussed, researched, and used in the past but, for equipment, the primary form of alternate fuel has become biodiesel.

Biodiesel is created from renewable agricultural resources, grown domestically. It is not the same as raw vegetable oil, it is produced by a chemical process that removes the glycerin present in raw oil. The primary way biodiesel is used is as a part of a biodiesel blend-a blend of biodiesel fuel with petroleum-based diesel fuel. The mix ratios are designated by BXX, where XX represents the volume percentage of biodiesel fuel in the blend. Most major construction equipment companies have approved and fitted their machinery to use up to a 20 percent biodiesel/80 percent diesel fuel mix (also called B20) without further alterations to the existing diesel engines.

Addressing the Indian Construction Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (ICEMA) Summit on ‘Indian CE Industry’s Roadmap for Bio-diesel Adoption, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road, Transport and Highways, stressed the substitution of diesel with alternative fuels.

He added, “Right Now, diesel is the single largest fuel used in this sector. Unfortunately, it is the most significant contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions and emits about 71 kg of carbon dioxide per GJ (gigajoule), highest amongst all fuel types.”

Gadkari said that approximately 40 per cent of India’s diesel consumption pertains to all road use such as agriculture, construction, mining, shipping, and railways. “Quantity of mining and construction-related diesel demand is estimated at 4 billion liters, annually. The majority of the use is attributed to a construction vehicle.”

Speaking further, the minister said that climate change is a matter of grave importance. “India has committed to increasing non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500GW. We have also promised to meet 50 per cent of our energy requirement from renewable energy. We need to reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion tonne and bring down the economy’s carbon intensity by less than 45 per cent.”

With the rising fuel prices in the country, the Rs 100/L cost of diesel is a huge burden on the contractors and developers. “We are importing 85 per cent of our crude oil which costs our economy Rs 8 lakh crore, yearly. Our energy demands also depend on 53 per cent gas and 24 per cent coal, and we are importing coal as well.”

Although OEMs were at the forefront in researching alternative fuels (John Deere was the first off-highway engine manufacturer to recommend biodiesel and factory-fill it in North America), some had concerns about the availability and consistency of suppliers; increased NOx emissions from biodiesel; compatibility of seals, gaskets and other material; cold-weather performance; stability and storage; thermal degradation at elevated temperatures; and lower energy content. Today, however, the OEM comfort zone has greatly improved.

Japanese mining and construction equipment maker, Komatsu is considering the introduction of bio-diesel-run machines in India. Komatsu operates here through its arm Komatsu India with L&T as the dealer for its products.

Recently, an oil checking lab was inaugurated at the company’s facility in the city. Located over 20 km from the city off Nagpur-Amravati Road, the lab would test the oil used in the equipment as an indicator of its condition.

Arvind Garg, Executive Vice-President of L&T’s construction and mining machinery division, said that they may try marketing Komatsu’s small and mid-sized machines running on bio-diesel in the Indian market too.

Garg further said that Komatsu is already running bio-diesel machinery in Indonesia. “A blend of as much as 20 per cent of bio-diesel is already running successfully in Indonesia, and there have been favourable results on trying 30 per cent blending also. The model may be adopted in India too depending on the availability of the fuel stations for biodiesel in the country,” said Garg.

The company is keen on bringing machinery that works on alternate fuel. Recently, a meeting was held with Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari who stressed the use of alternate fuels like ethanol, LNG, and CNG.

“Ethanol blends well with petrol, however, for diesel-run vehicles, bio-diesel has to be used. CNG can be tried for construction and mining sector vehicles. The company has already supplied electric-run mining vehicles to the South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL). This was in the large machinery segment. The presence of electric-run vehicles can increase depending on the coming up of charging stations throughout the country,” said Garg.

Yasunori Fuji, Managing Director of Komatsu India, said that the demand had taken a major hit after the second wave of Covid. However, it is hoped that the demand would grow in the coming financial year.

The company also sees a major demand due to the ongoing road construction work taken up by the ministry of transport. “Apart from the PSU mining companies which include the subsidiaries of Coal India, opening up of commercial mining through coal blocks auction is also expected to spur the demand for equipment like earthmover and dumpers,” said Garg.

According to Volvo CE, Swedish oil companies today mix up to 50 per cent HVO fuel in standard MK1 diesel, in recent years pure HVO has also been marketed.

HVO meets all diesel fuel requirements for the European market except for the density which is a little too low. HVO reduces both hazardous substances and the climate effect of the exhaust gases, Volvo CE representatives say 

The manufacturer decides what standards a fuel must meet if the warranty is to apply. Since 100 percent HVO has a lower density than the minimum requirement in the standard, Volvo CE has now approved the fuel. The company also performed tests that should have yielded a positive result. However, the lower density of fuel means that some engines may lose a few percent performances slightly depending on the fuel system design, Volvo CE says.

Case Construction Equipment has approved the use of B20 blends for more than 85 per cent of its construction equipment. B20 blends consist of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 per cent petroleum diesel. In June 2006, Case became the first construction equipment manufacturer to approve the use of B5 blends.

“Case is proudly leading the construction industry to help lower customers’ fuel costs and make a positive impact on the environment,” said Jim Hasler, vice president, Case Construction Equipment, North America. “Using biodiesel to power Case equipment reduces our dependence on foreign oil and increases our U.S.-based energy production. Plus, biodiesel has the potential to save customers money.”

“Biodiesel adds lubricity to the fuel, which is beneficial in many circumstances, particularly as sulfur and aromatics are removed from the fuel,” said Ray Good, engine application manager for Case. “Biodiesel has a higher Cetane number and burns cleaner with fewer particulates and smoke emissions. It is also fully biodegradable and nontoxic.”