It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green
By Kevin Miller
In an effort to improve fuel economy and at the same time meet vehicle emission targets, manufacturers have been rolling out clean diesel vehicles since 2007. Clean diesel technology in the US relies on the use of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). And while the vehicles have been on the market for over a year, the refueling infrastructure still has a way to go.
Last autumn we reported that Ford introduced a “Clean Diesel” 6.4-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel engine in heavy duty trucks, and that in addition to being cleaner and quieter, the new diesel engine is quicker. Zero-to-60 times are more than a second faster than the outgoing 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel. Fuel economy improved slightly as well. The system’s water-removal fuel filter allows use of a blend of up to 5 percent biodiesel. Our article concluded with the assessment that new motor is quieter, cleaner, and more powerful, and asked what more could drivers of heavy duty trucks possibly ask for? The answer to that rhetorical question is: more stations selling ULSD.
My brother, Erik, is the lightweight women’s crew coach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The university’s motor pool recently purchased a 2008 Ford F350 Super Duty with the clean 6.4-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel. On campus, the truck is fueled with a UW-made biofuel blend.
Among my brother’s coaching duties is trailering the team’s racing shells to some regattas. This weekend’s regatta is in Princeton, NJ. He loaded up the trailer, hitched it to the 1100-mile-new Super Duty, and headed east. When pulling a 60-foot trailer, the truck has a range of around 300 miles per tank. On the toll road across Ohio nearing Pennsylvania, with the fuel gauge nearing E, he pulled in to a service plaza. The service plaza didn’t offer Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. When he asked the attendant, he was told that the next service plaza offering ULSD was 93 miles away.
While at the service plaza, he phoned AAA to ask assistance in finding the nearest station selling ULSD. The AAA representative spent a long time on the phone with him, and was able to locate nearby E85 and biodiesel, but not ULSD. Additionally the AAA representative told him that if he was to run his truck out of fuel, AAA would not be able to provide roadside delivery of ULSD. Next he phoned the UW motor pool, who told him that he should head for the next toll plaza, and request a tow if he ran out of fuel first. They reiterated that Low-Sulfur Diesel or Standard Diesel should not be put the truck, that only Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel should be used. They had no recommendation on how to go about finding the fuel.
He ended up exiting the toll road near Pittsburgh, figuring that a large city would have stations offering ULSD. Knowing that Mercedes sells vehicles which require ULSD, he phoned a Mercedes dealership in Pittsburgh to ask where in the area ULSD was sold. They gave him the name of a local fuel chain, and he found his way to a station where he was told they offer biodiesel but not Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel; that chain referred him to a Shell station. He steered the truck through Pittsburgh’s city streets during rush-hour with its 60-foot trailer, now perilously low on fuel, to the nearest Shell station to determine whether they had ULSD. That station didn’t carry any diesel, but informed him that all Shell stations in the area who sold diesel sell ULSD. The attendant phoned a nearby Shell station which confirmed they had ULSD. He got explicit directions to the station, and the attendant was there waiting for him with a pump lane cleared out to make room for the truck and trailer.
From the time he pulled in to the service plaza on the toll road, until the time he pulled out of Pittsburgh full of fuel, more than three hours had elapsed. During that time, neither AAA nor Mercedes-Benz had been unable to accurately locate a station selling ULSD, and it was the sixth station he visited where he was finally able to fill his tank. With about 330 miles between Pittsburgh and Princeton, he would need to refuel once more before arriving at his destination.
While motorists driving locally will know where to find stations selling ULSD, the same cannot be said when people travel away from home. While diesel sedans can travel more than 500 miles on a single tank of fuel, heavy duty trucks require refueling more frequently, and any motorist on a cross-country road trip will need to be able to find the fuel easily.
As automakers are offering more new diesel vehicles requiring ULSD, the refueling infrastructure needs to be expanded. Many consumers will buy Ford’s Super Duty 6.4-liter Power Stroke turbo-diesel trucks for towing or hauling. Those consumers will certainly be ired when they get out on the road and cannot find a place to refuel their trucks. While trucks using the clean diesel technology are a great idea for reducing both pollution and fuel consumption, the idea simply doesn’t work if there aren’t enough stations around where the trucks can be refueled.
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