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Truck in the Park Biodiesel Demonstration

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spearheaded a project to demonstrate biodiesel use in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). With visitation increasing yearly, there is a need for more efficient transportation, such as buses, and reduced pollution, odors, and smoke caused by tourism transportation. Biodiesel is any plant oil or animal fat that is processed with an alcohol to make the methyl or ethyl esters of the oil useable in current production diesel engines. Yellowstone offered the opportunity to demonstrate this low emission, biodegradable fuel in an environmentally sensitive and extremely cold area. Such areas may prove to be a near-term niche market for this and similar bio-based fuels. Locally produced rapeseed ethyl ester (REE) could be part of the remedy to reduce pollution generated by diesel-powered vehicles in Yellowstone.

For this project, biodiesel was produced from off-spec rapeseed oil reacted with ethanol that is made from potato waste generated by the food processing industry. The biodiesel fueled a (new) 1995 Dodge ¾ ton 4X4 pickup, donated by Dodge Truck, with Cummins B diesel engine operated by the Park Service in Yellowstone. The truck was operated in regular maintenance service with periodic emissions and performance tests to document impacts of the use of biodiesel fuel. The truck has not had any significant problems resulting from the use of biodiesel and in 2010 had reached 205,000 miles of operation. Conventional cold-weather diesel handling procedures were sufficient to maintain operation. DEQ’s Truck in the Park project demonstrated that the use of 100 percent biodiesel (B-100) in NPS or other diesel-powered vehicles can reduce HC, PM, NOx, air toxics, and carcinogenic hazard in emissions, without attracting bears.

Picture Gallery of the Biodiesel Truck
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The "Truck in the Park" Project was designed with two purposes: to define a market for biodiesel and to provide data on emissions and performance that could be used by land managers, regulators, and providers of commercial tourism transportation. This project was a first-step to reduce environmental impacts resulting from diesel fuel use in the tourism industry. Basically, the project placed an unaltered diesel pickup truck into service in Yellowstone National Park, fueled this truck with 100 percent rapeseed ethyl ester, and monitored performance and emissions. Data were collected to determine the reliability, benefits, and costs of using biodiesel in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding region. The project included fuel characterization, detailed performance and emissions tests before and after (approximately) 149,408 km (92,838 miles) (using EPA protocols), and other quality control testing to document benefits and costs. The technical data and results of this demonstration are documented in a number of papers listed in the reports section. From this demonstration, we can conclude that:

  1. The effects of biodiesel on criteria emissions with and without the catalytic converter were unaffected over the course of time, and that no new compounds are generated in blends of biodiesel with conventional diesel. Air toxics are significantly reduced by increasing the amount of biodiesel in a blend. Overall, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide were reduced by the use of biodiesel. Oxides of nitrogen were either slightly reduced or unaffected by the use of 100 percent biodiesel, and particulate matter was slightly increased or unaffected;
  2. The project developed data for use in modeling air quality so the impacts can be assessed before a large scale conversion is implemented;
  3. Biodiesel or a blend may be the fuel of choice for restricted or poor air dispersion conditions. Tests also showed that the sweet odor of biodiesel exhaust does not attract bears, which was a concern to Park and land management officials.
  4. Operation during two Yellowstone winters showed that normal cold-weather diesel modifications were sufficient to enable use of biodiesel in cold weather operations. These included engine coolant, an engine block heater, battery heaters, an external (electric, magnetic) fuel tank heater, and a heating loop to the slip tank. The truck failed to run on only one occasion with a daytime temperature of -38.3E C (-37EF), a time when most things were only running for cover. However, biodiesel in Europe does use a biodegradable cold flow plug point additive for cold climate operations.
  5. The benefits of biodiesel include reduced toxicity, emissions, smoke, unpleasant odor, and increased safety and biodegradability.
  6. Two challenges yet remain: availability and cost. For this project, the refueling infrastructure and availability was carried in the bed of the truck, somewhat reducing the truck’s usefulness for work. The cost factor was overcome in part by the generous contributions from our many sponsors.
  7. As a result of this project and the 1998 Greening of Yellowstone Workshop, the Park Service indicated it would like to expand the use of biodiesel in its fleet. Several activities are proposed, including the use of blends in equipment dedicated at Lake and Old Faithful (about 22 vehicles). These will include its use in snow groomers, and other light and heavy duty vehicles. Discussions will continue with concessionaires about its use in buses marine equipment. The main problems are a lack of fuel availability and cost.
  8. The "Truck in the Park" project vehicle be included in Yellowstone’s Historic Vehicle Collection after an evaluation of engine wear caused by the fuel after 200,000 miles.

For more information, please see the Program Reports and Publications Section of this Program.