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A biodiesel mandate for Iowa?

By Staff | Mar 5, 2010

-Representatives of Decker Truck Lines in Fort Dodge testified last week before the House agriculture and transportation committees asking for the proposed biodiesel mandate bill to be killed. The officials said that as a trucking firm it will use biodiesel fuel when economically feasible, but does not want to be required to buy it when its not feasible.

DES MOINES – Iowa lawmakers, who sit on the House agriculture committee and the transportation committee, were told last week that the proposed biodiesel mandate will not be a boon for trucking firms.

Conversely, this week, lawmakers heard the opposing arguments by supporters of a B5 mandate for Iowa. (See related story on this page.)

Steve Lursen, special projects manager for Decker Truck Lines Inc., in Fort Dodge, told the ag committee on March 3 and the transportation committee on March 4 that biodiesel does not perform to the same efficiency as straight diesel.

Decker conducted a two-year, 2 million mile haul test that ended in 2009, comparing No. 2 diesel and B20, a fuel blended with 20 percent biodiesel, made from soybeans, and 80 percent No. 2 diesel.

Opposed to mandate

At issue this week has been the interpretations of mandate proponents using the results of Decker’s test, and opponents of the mandate using the results of the same study. Mandate opponents said biodiesel does not have the cetane, which acts like octane in gasoline, that straight diesel has; while mandate supporters claim the differences in how drivers handle trucks nullifies fuel performance differences.

On Jan. 22, the House Transportation Committee heard testimony from Don Heck, director of the Iowa Central Community College biofuels testing laboratory in Fort Dodge. Heck, who assisted with the Decker study, told the committee that the project showed biodiesel can be used effectively by trucking firms.

But this week, Decker’s Lursen and Tim Burns, the company’s chief financial officer, told the two committees that the company was not in favor of the biodiesel mandate, saying they had trouble with the blended fuel in cold weather, plus fuel efficiency, or miles driver per gallon, was less than straight diesel.

They also cited that this week there is a wide difference in the price of straight diesel out of the pipeline at $2.62 per gallon, compared to the blended fuel at a local retailer at $3.83. Decker trucks are currently not running on biodiesel, Burns said.

“We have no bone to pick with any of the partners in the project,” said Burns, “but we wanted to set the record straight.”

The Decker representatives said they were concerned that the company’s name was being used by mandate supporters as wanting the mandate bill to pass. “We are categorically against the mandate,” Burns said. “We did the test, there’s your data, and if (biodiesel) becomes price competitive, we’ll use it.

“We just don’t want to be told by the government that we have to use it.”

Lursen said that Decker was using biodiesel prior to the test, and early on the cost of the B20 was less than No. 1 diesel fuel.

“But in the middle of the test, the price of soybeans and fuel skyrocketed,” Lursen explained. “Since then fuel prices have come down and biodiesel can’t compete.”

Difference is drivers?

Randy Olson, executive director for the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said that the Decker study showed that the differences in how trucks are handled by individual drivers had more of an impact on fuel efficiency than the blended fuel itself.

“That study clearly indicated that driver-to-driver variability exceeded any performance difference between B20 and No. 1 fuel,” Olson said.

In addition, Olson said the Decker study used B20. “But the proposed legislation is for B5,” Olson said. “That makes all of their claims of fuel inefficiency insignificant.”

Minnesota’s mandate

Brenda Neville, president of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, told the transportation committee that a biodiesel mandate in Minnesota several years ago resulted in trucking firms opting not to buy the blended fuel in that state. Instead, she said, firms purchased straight diesel in Iowa and other non-mandated states.

“The bottom line is cost,” Neville said. “Our guys are not in a position to pay for higher fuel costs.”

Dawn w, president and chief executive officer for the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa, said her organization “has always been opposed to mandates. It’s a tax passed onto consumers, because almost everything they buy is brought to stores by trucks.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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