Petroleum-based fuels long have been the industry standard for heavy equipment primarily due to the lack of acceptable, cost-effective and reliable alternatives. But with growing interest in sustainable energy, alternative fuels have become more widely adopted and readily available in recent years. Biodiesel and renewable diesel will lead the way for alternative-fuel integration into the heavy equipment industry, according to Nick Block, director of worldwide marketing, sales & customer support, John Deere Power Systems (JDPS).
“We support the use of biodiesel and renewable diesel because we recognize the importance of biofuels to our customers and to the environment,” he said, in response to some questions from SAE International regarding the engine manufacturer’s alternative-propulsion priorities.
Which alternative fuels have the most potential in heavy-duty equipment?
We believe biodiesel and renewable diesel to be the most viable alternatives to diesel fuel for heavy-duty off-highway engines. John Deere engines operate efficiently using ultra-low sulfur diesel as well as biodiesel blends. It’s the right thing to do from a long-term economic standpoint, as well as environmental, energy-security and rural-development standpoints.
The primary advantages of both biodiesel and renewable diesel are their renewability. As renewable energy sources, they can help reduce dependence on petroleum imports. Biodiesel (B100) is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments.
Any other significant benefits?
The use of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel results in improved lubricity, zero aromatics and minimal sulfur. It has a very favorable energy balance – the difference between the energy produced by one kilogram of fuel and the energy necessary to produce it – of 3.2 to 1. This means a gallon of biodiesel provides users with 3.2 times the energy it takes to produce it, which is a higher ratio than most alternative fuels.
Which emissions or other regulations are you monitoring?
We anticipate that the additional NOx reduction standards that are being considered for on-highway will eventually make their way to off-highway regulations. This will impact the industry as manufacturers continue to keep track of nuanced regulations from country to country, while helping their customers manage necessary transitions.
What strategies is JDPS employing to improve fuel consumption?
Reducing fuel consumption can be segmented into three main categories: combustion efficiency, air handling efficiency, and managing friction losses. We’ve been addressing these areas by leveraging advanced modeling techniques as part of the engine development. We’re continuing to develop our capabilities – and advancing those capabilities – using virtual analysis before we start creating hardware and building the combustion system. Advanced modeling allows us to define and optimize the engine subsystems to achieve our performance requirements. We’re continuing to explore new technologies that enable advanced combustion concepts for continued improvement of the diesel engine.
Our most recent advancements regarding fuel consumption can be seen in our 13.6-L engine. We designed that engine with a clean-sheet approach, meaning we built it from the ground up. One of the objectives of that project was to manage in-cylinder efficiencies. We designed this engine for increased firing pressures to accommodate fast fuel burn while minimizing heat losses, leading to increased performance.
Are you implementing electrification in your upcoming design initiatives?
John Deere offers hybrid architectures that have been proven in the field with more than 1.5 million operating hours. Implementing alternative power systems like drivetrain and electric solutions in off-highway equipment will depend on being able to optimize an overall power solution – balancing mechanical, hydraulic and electric power systems and cost. That is why we’ve focused on providing scalable, flexible and modular solutions to generate and deliver the variety of power solutions needed in off-highway applications.
Electrification can offer increased controllability and ease of operation, which is key for our customers that are looking to meet the needs of a changing worksite. We’re cognizant of this when working closely with OEM customers on meeting their machine design goals.
What’s your view of hydrogen fuel cells?
John Deere Power Systems continues to explore new technologies and advancements in many areas, which may include alternative power sources. At the same time, we believe diesel power has a long life ahead due to the power density requirements of heavy-duty machinery.