Penn State runs tractors on straight biofuel


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A collaborative biofuel project is attracting worldwide attention and appears to have ramifications for the makers and users of all types of diesel-powered equipment.
For the past year, Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has been running two new, unmodified New Holland tractors on B100 biodiesel (fuel made from soybean oil with no petroleum-based component) with no ill effects.
Good news. After extensive use on Penn State’s farm fields, neither of the machines shows any sign of extra wear, according to Glen Cauffman, the university’s manager of farm operations and services.
“Thus far, we have experienced no negative effects of B100,” he says. “The tractors’ power, fuel consumption and performance appear equal to that of machines running on petroleum diesel fuel.”
This spring, New Holland added a third, larger tractor to the study. The new model is just now being introduced to customers. It has a 150-horsepower, Tier III engine, which is the newest generation of off-road diesels.
“The engine is completely computer controlled, providing cleaner exhaust emissions than previous diesels,” Cauffman said.
Program. Using straight biofuel to power the tractors is the culmination of a process that began about five years ago when Penn State began an aggressive program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on imported oil. At that time, engine manufacturers were not endorsing biodiesel blends greater than B5 (5 percent biodiesel) and threatening to void equipment warranties if that mixture was exceeded.
Despite the then-premium price and scarce availability of biodiesel fuel, the college’s Farm Operations and Services Department began using biodiesel in its 40-plus tractors, trucks and utility vehicles.
But if Penn State Cooperative Extension was going to promote the use of higher rates of biodiesel, college experts knew that they had to offer information based on experience. So the department began buying 100 percent biodiesel (B100) and “splash-blending” it with petroleum-based diesel fuel at the University Park campus to achieve a blend of B20 (20 percent biodiesel).
Across the board. Following the College of Agricultural Sciences’ lead, the university in 2006 converted all of its diesel equipment to B20 biodiesel blend.
Cauffman and his staff decided to stretch the envelope even further, in collaboration with machinery company Case New Holland, by operating the two tractors on B100 biodiesel.
Their goal is to learn what owners of diesels can expect when they choose to be independent of petroleum.

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