Biodiesel in the Polar Vortex

Mar. 25, 2014

In the 10 years that Blue Ridge Biofuels has been in business, we have never seen a winter quite like this. We have dealt with every single winter the same way for years, by always adding anti-gel to our fuel and by lowering our blends in the colder months to prevent gelling and other operational issues. This winter, however, has reminded us of the cold, bitter truth that helped to inspire the grassroots creation of Blue Ridge Biofuels years ago – our climate is changing, locally and globally, and we need to be better prepared in more ways than one.

During the bitter cold, neither our oil collection trucks nor our fuel delivery trucks would start. The batteries were dead and needed to be charged before any our drivers could begin their day. Fuel production had come to a halt as our pipes (full of biodiesel) were completely frozen. Even if our trucks had started, our drivers could not have filled our delivery trucks with biodiesel until our pipes had thawed. Meanwhile, the phones were ringing off the hook. It seemed like, conveniently enough, all of our BioHeat heating oil customers had all run out of BioHeat all at the same time. In addition, our most popular public pump station, the Gas-Up, was unable to turn on our pump station for any of our biodiesel vehicle customers.

During the coldest part of the winter, our pipes froze and we couldn’t pump biodiesel.

During the Polar Vortex, we heard of a variety of experiences from staff, friends, and our fuel customers. Although former staff member Kymber Owens’ 2002 VW Jetta TDI didn’t start, our General Manager Woodrow Eaton’s 2002 VW Jetta TDI did start – both of which were fueled with the same blend of biodiesel. Woodrow explained that he drove his Jetta to work because his Mercedes would not start; however, our Production Manager Bryan’s Mercedes did start that morning.  We heard from a few of our BioHeat customers that their furnaces would not turn on at all; meanwhile, Kymber’s BioHeat furnace at home and many others’ were working just fine.

This photo comes to us from BioHeat customer Chris McGee who had this to say: “We ran out of oil last night and Blue Ridge Biofuels came out and saved the day!!! They weathered the storm for me and my family, thank you Blue Ridge Biofuels.”

In the case of the next Polar Vortex, or the next Winter Storm Janus, here are a few extra precautionary measures for using biodiesel in (extremely) cold weather temperatures:

Kerosene: Adding kerosene to your fuel tank can reduce gelling and raise the flash point of the fuel making it easier to ignite in cold weather. For vehicles, consider adding one gallon of on-road kerosene into your fuel tank. For oil furnaces (and other off-road applications), consider adding 2-3 gallons of off-road kerosene into your fuel tank.

Parking: If possible, park your biodiesel vehicle in a garage to keep the fuel warmer overnight.

Block Heaters: If you are a biodiesel high-blend enthusiast, this may be a great option for you to consider.  Some diesels come with block heaters already installed. You can also have your automotive technician order and install an after-market block heater for you.

Please call our office if we can be of any further assistance. We are here to help!

Thanks so much to all of our colleagues and customers for their continued support and patience the past few months. It is by far been the busiest (and the coldest) we have ever been.

Many thanks to former staff member Kymber Owens for writing this blog posting for us. We miss her and wish her great success with her next adventure!

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