Family Back from Cross County Road Trip using Bio-Diesel


       In 2006, Raintree owner Sam Benowitz and his son Dan, then age 18, returned from driving  across the country using bio-diesel. Dan is now a student at Western Washington University studying engineering in the schools Vehicle Research Institute. This is the story of their trip... They drove from Raintree Nursery in Southwest Washington to Rockland Maine and back in Dan’s 1999 F-250 Diesel pickup truck that now has 178,000 miles on it. The truck has a 40 gallon truck tank and a 100 gallon transfer tank with 12 volt DC electric pump. They got almost 20 miles per gallon. It was a distance of almost 3,500 miles each way. Dan just graduated from Centralia College with a degree in Diesel Technology. With his concern about the future of the planet and his technical knowledge of diesel engines, Dan wanted to see if the truck would perform well on bio diesel and he wanted to spread the word about using renewable resource fuels. Dan also went back to Maine to continue learning glass blowing and he drove an additional 1,000 miles going to several shows throughout the Northeast.
            “With our large  bio diesel sticker on the back and our CB we had quite a few conversations with truckers about whether bio diesel would work in their rigs, Most truckers had misconceptions that bio diesel would plug up their filters and not give them enough power. Dan’s knowledge of diesel engines and fuels made some of the truckers seriously consider using bio-diesel,” said Sam. He added, “I used to think of diesel engines as running rough and belching out black smoke and pollution but the newer diesel engines run both smooth and clean.”
            Bio-diesel filling areas are still few and far between. The Benowitz’s went to the website  which lists all the places they know about in the nation on a map. A person clicks on any state and the phone number and addresses of each place come up. “We were interested in the about 20% of the places, the ones that carried close to 100% bio-diesel known as B99. While some of the places were regular fuel pumps and open 24 hours a day, most were only open during the week during regular business hours. Our experiences ranged from pulling up to a regular pump to finding a place way off any main road where the distributor had the bio-diesel in the back of an old tanker truck and pumped directly out of the truck,” said Sam.
“We started in Olympia Washington using B99 soy oil from the company Future Fuels. Near Oakes North Dakota, which was 80 miles out of our way, we filled up with B99 soy oil again. We almost filled up with B 99 in Great Barrington Massachusetts but despite calling ahead we arrived a few minutes after the owner left for a long weekend. We were then forced to use a few gallons of regular diesel before with got B-20 in Unity Maine,” said Sam.
       “There are many fewer bio diesel places in the east. On the way back we filled up with bio diesel out of the back of an old red fuel truck, 40 miles off our route near Cameron Wisconsin where Zeke Robinson told us of his efforts to spread the use of bio diesel with his company called Biodiesel Blue. This time we filled up with tallow which is derived from animals, though they said they usually had either soy or canola which is made from rape seed. We heard that Canola, which is a cold weather crop, is the most efficient per acre in producing fuel.
      “We got enough more bio-diesel to complete our trip in Mandan North Dakota when by chance we found  a fuel company, not on the website, that sold huge amounts of fuels to both truckers and farmers. They were promoting B 99 and many farmers and truckers, satisfied with the results, were using it. They pumped soy oil. We didn’t notice a different in the performance of the different fuels. However soy oil was a thicker fuel with a beautiful golden color and Dan thought the thicker oil would generate more BTU’s.  At each stop, Dan got into a long discussion about how bio diesel was running in his Ford F 250 as each person told how they had heard that bio diesel wasn’t good for the Ford diesel engines.”
      “There are several bio-diesel producing plants in the mid west, however distributors said they drove on average several hundred miles with their tankers to pick up their loads of bio-diesel. We heard of several new plants that were about to start up, but if fuel prices go up, I think the country will run out of bio diesel unless production facilities are ramped up.,” The website is a good place to look up lots of studies done around the world on bio-diesel. One study I looked at for Canola production for bio-diesel in the Southeast showed that average production was about 110 gallons per acre per year.  At 20 m.p.g. that’s  about 2,200 miles traveled per acre of production. That means it would take 15 to 20 acres per year to produce enough fuel for the average person’s vehicle.  It seems to me that if this is true that people will have to drive a lot less if we are to completely run our vehicles on bio-diesel. Some crops also produce a viable animal feed as a bi-product while the article I read said Canola did not,” said Sam
            Dan says about bio-diesel, “it emits approximately 80% less carbon dioxide, and also less particulate matter.” Dan, at the time of the trip was considering attending Northern Montana State College in Havre Montana, which he visited on the return trip. This college leads the way in the study of diesel technology. They were about to build a bio diesel producing facility. They have state of the art equipment and work with all the major fuel and transportation companies around the world. Dan is interested in testing the performance and emissions of vehicles to get accurate information about their emissions and their performance. The college is in the forefront of developing technology that will make bio fuels even less polluting and more efficient in the future.
.           Dan explains that he “used a 10 micron element filter on the transfer tank.  He replaced the Ford’s fuel filter 3 times because the bio diesel picks up the sediment that is already in the tank.”
His truck is a Ford F 250 with a 7.3 liter International Power Stroke Turbo Diesel.
      Dan says, “many people think you shouldn’t run bio diesel because it will plug up the fuel filter. This is only true at first and won’t happen at all if you clean your tank.
People think that bio diesel will ruin the fuel injectors whether they be mechanical, EUI or HEUI.  I found that it doesn’t affect the injectors it actually cleans them.”
People told Dan that they thought bio diesel would provide less power. “We found that
there was plenty of power and it seemed like there was at least as much as regular diesel.
We were carry a lot of weight and were accelerating up long steep mountains in the Rockies passing other pick up trucks. But I would like to confirm that scientifically, said Dan.
Dan explained that federal law will soon require ultra low sulfer diesel in the near future, he says ultra low sulfer fuel while less polluting, can over heat pistons and rings because their will no longer be lubrication from the fuel. Bio diesel would correct this problem and have much higher lubricity than petroleum diesel.
“We paid about $2.90 a gallon about the same or lower than petroleum diesel.
Its worth it to switch over to biodiesel it will benefit you and everyone else now and later, says Dan.
Dan explains, “on late model vehicles, no modification in necessary. Some older vehicles you need to change natural rubber hoses and seals to synthetic rubber. All hoses and seals are synthetic rubber now. The gel point of biodiesel is a much higher temperature than bio diesel therefore blending is necessary in colder winter areas,” he explained.
Dan concluded, “The idea of my trip is to educate people. It takes people to fix the problem. We need to take it upon ourselves to change our habits and to show other people what is possible and to lobby for a cleaner earth and a cleaner life. Its all inter connected.”

In 2012 Dan is now studying mechanical engineering at Western Washington University. He has become an advocate of bicycle power. He believes that especially in cities and towns most people can travel by bicycle without using any engines.