Tips for Choosing the Right Cold Weather Fuel

It’s hard to imagine right now, but winter is not far off. Your fleet customers in cold-weather regions don’t need a reminder. They’ve been planning their winter fuel usage for weeks now.
Tips for Choosing the Right Cold Weather Fuel

It’s hard to imagine right now, but winter is not far off. Your fleet customers in cold-weather regions don’t need a reminder. They’ve been planning their winter fuel usage for weeks now.

Here are the questions I hear most frequently while helping retailers and fleets make sure they have the right biodiesel blend for winter. Being aware of these issues can help you offer the products your fleet customers will be looking for.

Can fleets use biodiesel in the cold?
The short answer is yes. Let’s address the misconception that biodiesel does not work well in cold weather: Fleets have driven millions of miles in below-freezing temperatures on blends up to B20, which is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. Sure, biodiesel’s Cloud Point does matter, but let’s not forget that the same is true for petroleum diesel. Proper blending, storage and handling along with the use of good winter fuel additives are the keys to success — with both biodiesel and petroleum diesel.

How do I determine the right blend to offer for my fleet customers?
The Cloud Point of the biodiesel blend will determine the storage temperature of the fuel.

  • Store at the proper temperature. For biodiesel blended fuels up to 30% biodiesel, heated and insulated tanks are not typically needed — except in extremely cold climates. It is recommended that B100 and B99 be stored in heated and insulated tanks.
  • Take extra precautions in extreme cold. Above-ground storage and handling systems — including pipes, tanks and pumping equipment — should be protected with insulation, agitation, heating systems or other measures if temperatures regularly fall below the Cloud Point.

If you blend your own fuel, it’s important to know the cold weather specifications for both your base diesel fuel and biodiesel before blending. Then, follow these guidelines:

  • Blend biodiesel with petroleum diesel while keeping both fuels at least 10º F above their respective Cloud Points. The warmer the biodiesel, the better it will blend. A blending temperature of 70º F or higher is ideal.
  • If pumping biodiesel in cold weather through a conventional fuel pump, keep the hose and supply line to the pump equally protected from the cold.
  • Avoid introducing biodiesel directly into a cold and empty tank.

You may find reason to switch to lower blends on the very coldest days, but it’s unlikely you need to eliminate blends from your winter lineup completely.

What properties should I Iook for in the biodiesel?
As mentioned in the tips above, Cloud Point is an important factor in choosing biodiesel. Cloud Point is the temperature at which wax crystals cause fuel to appear cloudy. For example, my company’s lineup includes three different Cloud Point options which can be used in different blend ratios and regions across the U.S. depending on the time of year.

You should also know whether the biodiesel is distilled or undistilled. Distillation is a purification process that does a better job at removing minor components, such as steryl glucosides, that can cause issues in cold weather. A distilled B10 blend will perform better in the cold than an undistilled B10 blend with the same Cloud Point.

How easy is it to switch blend levels?
It’s easiest if you are strategic when ordering fuel. If you blend fuel yourself, you should follow the tips mentioned earlier. Blending systems make it pretty simple to switch blend levels based on weather, economics or other factors.

If you are buying pre-blended fuel, then you’ll want to work with your fuel provider to get the blend level you want. If the weather changes quickly, a good fuel supplier can add fuel to the tank to get you to the blend you need. For example, when a polar vortex was forecast to hit the Midwest one winter and drop temperatures below zero, REG Fuel Services filled up Iowa customers’ tanks with B0 to lower the biodiesel content — and therefore the Cloud Points — in their tanks. For example, if a customer had 40% of a tank left of B10, we are able to add the right blend to get the entire tank to B5.

That brings up one of the key points in successful cold weather fueling: Have a supplier that is flexible and can get you what you want. Do they offer distilled biodiesel? Different Cloud Points? Will they work with you on your contract rather than locking you in? If you have B5 scheduled and it’s a mild winter and you want to take advantage of the performance, environmental and financial benefits of a higher blend, will they get you B10 or B20? These are questions to ask of your supplier.

Want further assistance?
A knowledgeable biodiesel producer or supplier should be able to help you create a blending program based on seasonality and your unique needs. These programs range from detailed plans that change week to week, depending on the weather, to broad plans that cover an entire season.

If you have questions about offering biodiesel blends as the temperatures drop, I’d be happy to discuss:

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