The Biofuel Advantage

You have to take your hat off to Rod Pilon. The Managing Director of Rod Pilon Transport has for some 10 years been intent on lowering his company’s carbon footprint, and has been extremely active developing systems to produce his own biodiesel blend.

From day one he has been instrumental in developing an in-house biodiesel production system addressing future fuel needs of his truck fleet. While it has not been without problems along the way, Rod has persisted and today Pilon trucks run on a 15 per cent blend, with no loss to performance and reliability.

As anybody who has gone down the path to develop a biodiesel blend will tell you there have been challenges. For many early use of biodiesel blends resulted in a raft of problems with trucks on the highway, forcing most to give the game away and return to full diesel fuel, but not Rod Pilon.

The fleet of trucks, operating out the Pilon Dubbo headquarters, cover a vast area of the country including outback Australia where reliability is paramount. Rod commenced operations in the 1970s and in 1975, road train runs to Darwin broadened the company’s services, and contributed to growth that has been carefully planned to provide truly national transport solutions.

The company has depots in all capitals as well as Bourke in Western NSW and Mt Isa in Queensland, with high utilisation of equipment delivering express freight, oversize loads, dangerous goods and warehousing and distribution services to customers. The fleet comprises road trains, B-Doubles and single trailers along with an extensive rigid delivery truck line-up, all covering a high number of kilometres annually.

Rod Pilon, like most in the trucking industry, is well aware of operating costs and recognises the importance of transport’s impact on the environment. When development of a biodiesel blend was first considered, Rod was well ahead of others in the environmental stakes. He could see the absolute need to lessen emissions and consider future requirements, also taking into account a requirement for extensive testing.

A number of types of biodiesel have been investigated with various vegetable oils used as the base for production, and that too has been a learning curve. The result is that all Pilon vehicles now run the 15 per cent biodiesel blend and the result of ongoing development in the fuel production has seen no problem in its use.

“We have had a lot of discussion with engine manufacturers during the journey,” Maintenance Manager Paul May says. “It seems most are happy to see us run a 20 per cent blend but the decision was made to maintain 15 per cent, and for over 12 months this has proven to a good choice, with no issues or dramas over that period.

“There are 43 long haul trucks in the fleet, a number we expect to grow over the next year, and a saving of around seven cents per litre is now being achieved which adds up to a substantial amount considering the number of kilometres travelled.”

Production is tailored to serve fleet needs with the trucks fuelling in Dubbo and topping up with premium diesel with enough to have them return where the fuel blend is again added.

The fuel is produced from used cooking oil. Canola was originally the vegetable oil of choice but this has future ramifications due to the possibility of a canola shortage in the food chain.

“Used cooking oil is bought from wholesalers and suits our production. One of the problems has been water. You would not believe how much there is in cooking oil, but a drier has been developed to overcome this problem,” Paul points out.

“Our production in Dubbo is simply enough for our needs. We do not at this point look to on-selling the biodiesel. That production is carefully calculated to be added to bulk diesel fuel we buy from local suppliers and we are definitely gaining good results. At the end of the day a transport company has to deliver reliability for customers and we are certainly achieving that running the biodiesel blend.

“We have to be serious about lowering our CO2 emissions and lowering our carbon footprint and our production of biodiesel program has had that as a goal since day one in the development of the fuel,” Paul indicates.

He also indicates there is an ongoing fleet upgrade process for improved economy through new technology. Paul says the company investigates all developments for not only better fuel but also safety gains.

“One example is the new trucks are fitted with Eaton Ultra-Shift transmissions and while they deliver good fuel they also contribute to lessening driver fatigue. Also in new trucks there are more controls on the steering wheel, which improves driver comfort, again addressing fatigue.

“We do as much as we can to protect our drivers in any way possible. We are looking at cameras mounted in the trucks for better vision, particularly when turning as this is another form of protection, plus rear vision cameras improve safety. Cameras are the way of the future and we are currently looking at methods to collect data from them. It’s all about safety,” he says.

Lowering emissions and improving safety go hand-in-hand with meticulous maintenance practices and this has been an integral part of the biofuel program. All trucks are serviced and repaired in-house and testament to reliability is the fact what is termed ‘truck number 1’, a Kenworth W Model bought in 1985, is still engaged on road train work.

The truck has covered so many kilometres it has engine number three under the bonnet as it continues on triple trailer haulage through the Outback, and yes – it too runs on a 15 per cent biodiesel blend.

Rod Pilon has been a champion in the development of the biofuel blend his trucks use and he continues to improve on quality, not only of the fuel, but company services across Australia.

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