Power Bytes

Fuels of Today!

April 01, 2021 Caterpillar Inc. Season 2 Episode 4
Power Bytes
Fuels of Today!
Show Notes Transcript

Users have a wide spectrum of fuel choices for power generation. Today we speak with a fuels expert about some of them.  Please Subscribe.  Send feedback to [email protected]

Lou:  Good Day and welcome everyone to Power Bytes!  I am your host Lou Signorelli and Power Bytes is your destination Podcast for power generation discussions.  As always please know how much we appreciate you, our listeners.  We hope you find our topics helpful and interesting.  There are several ways for you to get in touch with the show. You can send us an email at [email protected], visit us at Cat Electric Power on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Please remember to subscribe if you enjoy your time with us today. 

Lou: In all my travels around the world, when I tell people that I work for Caterpillar everyone seems to know the company for different reasons.  Some know us for our construction equipment, some for our mining technologies, some for our industry leading gensets, and in Europe… I often hear how good Cat Boots are.  That's right…boots.  But I never hear about the very topic we are going to talk about today… Fuels.  That's right Fuels. You see Caterpillar has some of the most experienced fuel experts around.  How else can you lead the power generation industry if you don't consider fuel?  Right?  Makes sense to me.

Lou: Joining me today to discuss fuels is Hind Abi-Akar.   Hind received her PhD in Materials Science from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!).  Hind has been with Cat for 25 years and is presently a Lubricants and Fuels Technical Expert.

Lou: Welcome Hind!

Hind: Thank you Lou. My pleasure to participate.

Lou: So Hind, first let's start with you.  What has your experience been when you tell people you are with Caterpillar then tell them that you are fuels expert?

Hind: raised eyebrows - confusion!  I am often asked, but you are the big Yellow – what do you have to do with fuels? 
I am not surprised though. Fuel is an afterthought for many users - a lifeline of vehicles that is available anywhere in the world and works for any brand and make of engines. Think of your car, whatever your car model and brand is, you stop at any filling station, anywhere in the world, fill up, no questions asked, and expect the fuel to work with your engine technology.
The enabler of this remarkable availability and compatibility is a whole army of experts who work behind the scenes to make sure there are clear and useful specifications for fuel characteristics that work in any engine and that can be produced by refineries globally. We as OEMs sit at the table with fuel producers and chemicals producers at standards societies and specific fuel committees and work on the details of fuel specs and quality. These are in depth detailed discussions that are governed by strict rules to ensure transparency and clarity, both for users and producers. Another layer of importance to this collaboration is that fuel specifications are adopted by governments, states, municipalities, and others and become part of the definition of the fuel and are specified in regulations. So, having quality fuel available is governed by the law in many regions.  
Diesel fuel, technically "fuels the economy" and is a critical product.  There is significant focus on this product by governments worldwide.  
Given this long explanation, hopefully now it is clear why we are deeply involved in diesel fuel to support industries anywhere they operate.

Lou: How funny… ok…let's talk fuels.  Most everyone is familiar with Diesel fuel.  In power generation we most predominantly use #2 Diesel .  So, let's leave that aside and dive into some of the other fuels that are available and why folks should consider them.  

Hind: Lou, as you know, as a global company we are in every corner of the world supporting energy and progress - we encounter every fuel that might be potentially used: in addition to #2 diesel, we can use #1diesel, jet fuels, Biodiesel, HVO, and GTL. Depending on the application and engine design, marine fuels, heavy fuel oils, bunker fuels, even crude oils can be used in our engines. Pyrolysis fuels and other new developments can also be used 

Lou: Some of these I've not even heard of Hind.  Wow.  Let's start with the more well-known fuel "Bio Diesel".  Can you tell us a bit about what it is and if there are any special considerations for using it?

Hind: True - biodiesel is a rather well-known renewable fuel that has been on the market in certain countries for close to 20 years. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oils (like soy, palm, corn etc), from used cooking oil (from restaurants - French fries any deep frying and food processing), from animal fat (like chicken fat, tallow, pork) and also can be derived from algae, and from corn used in the ethanol processing.  Even waste processing (sewage for example) can produce "brown" grease).  Notice that all these oils and fats are renewable resources and of low carbon footprint. 
Oils and fats are processed by esterification in order to transform them into fuels that can combust effectively in the engine. Following up on the theme we started earlier, biodiesel fuels have to be per specifications in order to work properly. Biodiesel is then blended into diesel fuel at various levels: 5%, 20% or other blend levels.  We provide detailed guidance and recommendations for all our engine models in our Fluids specific publications.

Lou: Thanks Hind.  You mentioned earlier GTL.  What is that?

Hind: GTL is the acronym of Gas-to-liquid which is the processing of natural gas to a liquid fuel typically through a process called Fischer Tropsch. Natural gas, that was flared in many cases, is instead used to produce high-quality drop-in replacement for diesel fuel. Basically, transforming natural gas which has very high Green House Gas impact into a fuel.  Natural gas has 25 times the GHG impact compared to CO2 - so just producing fuel from natural gas reduces GHG and replaces petroleum-based fuel. 
HVO and GTL have the same chemistry and same specs - both are high paraffinic fuels, which is a subset of the diesel fuel chemistry and can be used in our engines at any blend level. Users of GTL need to know that this fuel has lower energy content than diesel and may result is some reduction of power output when used at 100%.

Lou: For years we've been hearing that we will one day be able to run vegetable oil in our cars etc…   Did I hear that on your list as HVO?

Hind: Glad I did not lose you with all these acronyms! Yes I mentioned HVO: hydrotreated vegetable oils. This is not straight vegetable oil, but vegetable oil, or animal fat that has been processed by hydrotreating.  In essence, both HVO and biodiesel are derived from vegetable oils, used cooking oil, or fats. For HVO, these oils are then hydrotreated in a refinery-like operation to produce high paraffinic fuel replacement. While biodiesel is esterified to produce oxygenated fuel. Specification for HVO is different than that of biodiesel. Not to confuse any of our listeners - but it is useful to add that HVO and GTL have to be per EU 15940 specification and meet all the requirements of the US diesel fuel specification. I prefer though that we refer to EN 15940 since it has more characteristics specific to HVO and GTL fuels than diesel fuel spec. 

To be clear… Raw vegetable oil is not a fuel and does not combust properly in the engine, despite what you may read on the internet... Once processed, either into biodiesel or into HVO, then it can be readily used as a fuel.  The advantage is that these are renewable diesel - not new CO2 source. Both biodiesel and HVO also reduce certain emissions from engines, hence they have even more of an advantage.)

 Lou:  Hind, I like to go fast.  Did I hear you right. JET FUEL?  Was that on your list as a drop in for diesel?

Hind: You certainly can use certain jet fuels - these will not make you go fast though...  They can help you start your engine if you are in Antarctica. Jets operate at high altitudes where the external temperatures can be -50 deg centigrade and jet fuels do not gel at these low temperatures and remain fluid. And really this is why either 100% jet fuels or a blend with # 2 diesel fuel is used. To allow starting in cold climates - winters in N America, Canada, Siberia and other cold climates where we have our Cat equipment operate.
To provide more details, we allow the use of JP-8, JP-5, Jet A or Jet A-1 with some caveats related to viscosity.  If used at 100%, these jet fuels allow starting at low temperatures, but also have lower energy content than diesel fuel and lower viscosity. We have limits related to the viscosity to ensure that the fuel does not cause wear in the fuel pump or fuel injection system. 

Lou: wow… this is fascinating.  I want to get to the final item on the list:  Alternative fuels from plastics, pyrolysis etc…what are those fuels?

Hind: the efforts to transform waste into fuels are not actually new, but now are progressing at a faster pace due to the need to reduce GHG of fuels. We follow these efforts and we experiment with new fuels, sometimes during the development phase to better understand their applications in our engines and guide the developing companies or research centers. 
Pyrolysis is the process of heating a product which can be wood, plastic, tires or others under certain conditions then processing these products to transform them into fuels that can combust in engines.  Some of pyrolysis fuels can be very high in sulfur (mainly if produced from tires) or of high acidity that needs to be neutralized.  Harping on the same theme, if these fuels are per specifications, they can be used as a blend with diesel or even as a fuel. We provided guidance on pyrolysis fuels in Cat fluids publications. And as usual, we can be reached for help in understanding a certain fuel

Lou: do you see trends that may be of interest to our fuel consumers and users?

Hind: Global trends is an area that we follow closely. We talked about the renewable aspects and advancements in fuels. There is another aspect that is also moving in the right direction globally: the reduction of sulfur in fuels. Diesel fuels can contain sulfur up to 3% or more. Sulfur emissions can become sulfuric acid, which causes environmental damage and is related to health issues.  Sulfur reduction from diesel happens only by refining processes and requires commitments and large financial investments sometimes from governments. Lower sulfur fuels are much better for engines, cause less deposits and allow longer engine oil life - it is a trend we follow. The good news is that we see sulfur levels in fuels are decreasing globally and hope that this trend continues.  Lower sulfur fuels allow the use of advanced engine technologies with aftertreatment devices that significantly reduce engine emissions  

Lou: Hind it sounds like Caterpillar is really at the forefront of fuels and their development.

Hind: Caterpillar has aggressive sustainability goals and the goals of the industry are at the top of our mind.  
We are at the forefront of fuel developments to satisfy our Cat sustainability goals, our customer needs anywhere, and our engineering needs to design robust and durable engines and machines that our customers expect from us.

Lou: There you have it folks.  I'd like to thank Hind Abi-Akar  for sharing her insights with us today… and thank you, our listeners for listening to Power Bytes. 

For more information go to parts.cat.com, select fuels, then the reference tab for all of Caterpillar's fuel specifications and more. 

If you’d like to suggest other topics for the program or have some feedback to share,  please write us here at [email protected] or visit Cat Electric Power on Facebook or LinkedIn.   Please remember to subscribe to our Podcast wherever  you listen to your favorite podcasts.  Till next time, thanks for listening to Power Bytes and have a great day!