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Fuel for Thought

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

Know that anxious feeling you get when you’re sitting on a decent three-of-a-kind but you’re sure all the wildcards are still in the deck?

That’s sort of what shopping for a new truck is starting to feel like.

Truck buyers, having lived through the first round of strict EPA-mandated emission controls in 2002, are generally optimistic about the latest technology in the newer line of low-polluting engines set to take effect in eight months.

At least one major wildcard remains, however: The ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) required in those engines. Not only will the new ’07 engines cut NOx and particulate matter (PM) by another 90 percent –down from 2.5 grams to 0.2 grams (NOx) and down to .01 grams for PM — but the sulfur spec in diesel fuel will be dramatically reduced from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm. Although the compliance deadline was set for September 2006, the EPA has allowed retailers to sell 22 ppm ULSD until Oct. 15, 2006.

As Today’s Trucking has reported over the last year, there are lingering concerns over how much of the ULSD supply will be compliant by the time it hits retailers. As the 15 ppm fuel is transferred through pipelines and moved into tankers, it’ll come into contact with residue left from higher-sulfur products like furnace oil and jet fuel, thereby raising the sulfur count.

In order to meet the ULSD standard for commercial use, suppliers will have to produce the fuel at 8 ppm, allowing some flexibility for contamination during distribution and handling.

“The only way you can get rid of that residual sulfur in the pipeline is by putting cleaner product through it. There’s no way to scrub it; no other way to deal with it except to make room for contamination and let it creep back up,” says Imperial Oil’s Clint Smith from his Markham, Ont. office.

Smith’s Calgary-based colleague at Imperial, Charlie Lund, says the real challenge is not so much mitigating pipeline contamination, but ensuring fuel haulers meet tough new Canadian Petroleum Products Institute standards for transporting ULSD.

“Life is going to get a little more complicated for them because there will be more rigid requirements for change of service — things that used to be able to be changed with relatively minor procedures will now require more careful flushing and cleaning of tank wagons prior to going into a ULSD service,” says Lund. “It’s not going to put the industry into a tailspin or anything, but there will be considerably more diligence now.”

A liter of diesel with a sulfur content of 500 ppm could easily contaminate 100 liters of ULSD, says Jacques Jobin, quality assurance specialist for Montreal-based Ultramar. To resolve the problem, the oil industry has set standards of 8 ppm for the refinery and the primary terminal, 10 ppm for the secondary terminal exit, 12 ppm for the bulk storage plant exit and 14 ppm for the sales outlet, he says.

Since ppm compliance will be enforced at the point of sale, the real concern for truckers is if they’ll be able to get their hands on enough of the new product this fall-a time when the distillate-based heating season begins.

Even if refiners meet production benchmarks, Jobin says a portion of ULSD earmarked for retail will have to be remarketed to off-road or other sectors if the sulfur spec gets spoiled. That, in turn, may strain supply in some pockets and push up the cost of ULSD anywhere else.

“With large carriers — the cardlocks especially — we don’t have any concerns they will have enough to meet demand,” says Jobin. “However, with some small-volume service stations, there may be some issues at the beginning.”

Enginemakers stress that any spec other than 15 ppm is not to be used in the new ’07 engines. “We’re designing the engines to run on ULSD, and the operators manual will make it clear that the engines are designed to run only on ULSD,” says Dr. Steve Charlton, Cummins’ executive director of heavy-duty engineering. “It’s a compliance issue. We cannot meet the particulate standards with any level of sulfur above 15 ppm.”

ULSD is pretty sensitive to contamination, which means
substantial renovation of the various distribution systems

However, there’s no denying that some truckers may attempt to pump 500 ppm into their new ’07 truck models either by choice or necessity. In fact, admits Jobin, with 500 ppm being downgraded and unmarketable, it may start appearing on the ‘grey’ market at bargain-basement prices. “For us, we will ensure at retail sites the fuel will be on-spec,” he says. “But 500 ppm will have to be disposed of, and some guys may want to stockpile it because it’s cheap. Yes that could happen.”

So what happens if you fill up new engines with non-compliant fuel? Other than risking your warranty, enginemakers agree there are likely no serious adverse effects. “The goal is to stabilize sulfur, so we demand ULSD,” says Tim Shick of International’s Big Bore Engine division. “As for emergencies? We don’t believe that’s going to cause any problems beyond possibly more frequent regeneration events of the diesel particulate filter (DPF).”

ULSD will be backwards compatible with older engines too. In fact, in some regions where limited suppliers only want to market one type of fuel, it may be truckers’ only choice no matter what age their engines are. That means lubricity issues associated with the lack of sulfur in the fuel may be even more apparent. “When you’re taking out the sulfur, you’re taking out some of the naturally occurring lubricating agents and reducing the natural lubricity of the fuel,” says Charlie Lund.

Fuel companies say additives in ULSD should compensate for any loss of lubricity, but Jobin warns buyers to be careful experimenting with additive cocktails in the aftermarket. “ULSD will have less affinity for moisture. If you start adding too many additives — maybe high molecular weight, stability improver, extra anti-oxidants — you could create an environment that attracts moisture,” he says.

Like with any new product, there’s little doubt some of the uncertainty with ULSD can only be eased after the fuel has been trialed — and perhaps erred — in the market. While it’s common knowledge that because of reduced energy density, ULSD carries a 2-3 percent fuel penalty (the good news is the fuel economy of the actual engines are said to be at par with current models) — the cost of the fuel still remains the biggest mystery.

At a recent conference, Caterpillar general manager of On-Highway Engines Jim McReynolds said that fleets currently testing the fuel with new engines indicate that ULSD costs about $1.50 a gallon on top of the current price at the pumps. Although that increase is extreme — mainly because ULSD is still a non-commercial boutique fuel — Cat’s Jason Phelps couldn’t say at this point where the price would eventually settle. “Like any new technology, the costs will eventually come around.”

Meanwhile, the pot this hand keeps getting bigger.

SIDEBAR: Refining Is the Easy Part

The challenge of making ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B. is not a small one, and the price tag is big — more than $200 million, according to Rob Gardner, director of Irving’s wholesale industrial energy service.

“To make 15ppm diesel is quite a different proposition than making 500ppm diesel,” he told his audience during a session at the recent Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association Truck Technology & Maintenance Conference held in his company’s home town.

But the bigger challenge, at an additional cost not much different from that of the refining, is in modifying the extensive distribution system that will bring ULSD fuel to a truck’s saddle tanks, Gardner said. By June, the company will make only ULSD fuel and heating oil (at 3,000 ppm), and they absolutely can’t be mixed.

“ULSD is pretty sensitive to contamination,” he explained, which means substantial renovation or outright replacement of the various distribution system elements. Those elements include the refinery itself, storage tanks, ships, marine terminals, and trucks. Which isn’t to mention a carrier’s own underground storage tanks.

Gardner noted that fleets will have to establish a way to swing over their own tanks from one fuel to the other by the time ULSD is being shipped later this year.

He says Irving will have no difficulty being ready to meet the ULSD deadlines — 15ppm at the refinery by June of this year, and 15ppm in the customer’s trucks by October 15. But it has meant buying some new ships that can be washed out, for example. As for the company’s own tanker trucks, Gardner said they’re reviewing three options: using dedicated trailers; modifying trailers to create dedicated compartments; or installing ‘drain dry’ and flush capability at terminals. It will take at least four complete ‘turns’ to make the entire system 100 percent safe for ULSD.

In fact, as other refiners will likely do, Irving is actually going to refine diesel fuel at 8ppm to ensure that its sulfur content is no worse than 15 ppm by the time it reaches the customer.

— Read everything you need to know about the new diesel particulate filters (DPFs) on ’07 engines in the next Weekly Feature at


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