Biofuels have been around for many years. However, they have recently hit the headlines as a way of tackling the issues of reducing CO2 and our dependence on fossil fuels. Biofuels are generated from sustainable sources and, according to the EU Fuel Directive of 2014, “could provide clean power to all forms of transport.”

For automotive vehicles, biofuels come in the form of biodiesel or biogasoline, where a quantity of the biofuel is mixed with traditional petrol or diesel. The EU Directive 2009/30/ DC already allows for the blending of ethanol into petrol up to 10 % (v/v) and for a FAME content of 7 % (v/v) in diesel, and this is expected to rise to 9.75% by 2020. Most vehicles on the UK’s roads already run on some quantity of biofuel.

Companies around the world are investing in and adopting biofuels in proactive ways. In the UK, McDonald’s recycles the used cooking oil from their kitchens into biodiesel, which they use to fuel more than half of their delivery trucks. In Australia, a Queensland oil refinery is making biofuel from post-consumer waste, mainly mixed tire crude oil. Their laboratory tests have shown this diesel is indistinguishable from fossil diesel and delivers all the performance that you would expect from fossil diesel.

The increasing use of biofuels is having a major impact on lubricants. In 2016 the industry body responsible for engine oil standards in Europe, ACEA, introduced specific standards for the use of lubricants in conjunction with biofuels. These new tests cater to the unique challenges biofuels present. In any engine, a small amount of the fuel goes into the lubricant. Today’s latest generation of lower emission, higher performance engines are running at hotter temperatures. This means that lubricants are also running at higher temperatures than in the past. Biofuels are less stable than other fuels and oxidize easily. The combination of higher temperatures and biofuels causes increased oxidation which in turn creates carbon deposits in the engine and reduces the viscosity of the lubricant. This results in increased friction and component wear, particularly in the cylinders, which can shorten engine life. An unwelcome thought for any fleet manager.

Engine oils are being developed using better quality base oils and additives to increase oxidation stability. At the moment, this is covered within mainstream oils, which are designed and tested for vehicles running up to 20% biofuels. However, if a fleet was running on 100% biofuel it would need a different lubricant entirely, as well as different oil drain intervals.

Meanwhile, the advice for fleet operators remains the same – to ensure their maintenance teams use the correct, high-quality lubricant from a reputable supplier that is formulated with the latest additives to combat the effects of biodiesel and meet all the needs of modern engines. Always refer to the vehicle manual to comply with manufacturer guidelines on the correct lubricant to use and how often to change it. Using the most suitable, high-quality lubricant is the best approach to ensure that the engine is sufficiently protected throughout its lifetime and that your fleet is kept on the road for as long as possible.

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