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BNSF will test Northern biodiesel


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The dean of Montana Stat e University-Northern's College of Technical Sciences announced Thursday that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway will soon begin testing use of biodiesel — testing fuel produced on the Hi-Line in its Havre station.

"They have agreed to use our fuel," Dean Greg Kegel said.

Northern Chancellor Frank Trocki said in an interview that the tests could bring a significant benefit to the Hi-Line, along with other work being done in the biofuels arena in the university's laboratories.

"I think there's some great opportunity for the Hi-Line and north-central Montana to participate in a global energy movement," Trocki said.

Kegel spoke during a meeting of the 25x'25 Alliance, a group trying to ensure that 15 percent of the nation's energy is produced through renewable sources by 2025. The group met with Re s o u r c e C o n s e r v a t i o n a n d Development Area representatives Wednesday and Thursday — the state RC&D Association held its annual meeting in Havre Wednesday — to work out reviving Montana's 25x'25 chapter.

Kegel introduced the day's agenda, which included a tour of the university's Bio-Energy Innovation and Testing Center.

Kegel said the tests could result in a significant demand for biodiesel if BNSF, one of the country's largest railroad companies, is satisfied with the results. The Havre refueling station alone uses 35 million gallons of diesel a year, he said.

"They bring all that fuel in," he added.

Kegel said that, because Northern's facility cannot produce enough biodiesel for the tests, Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester will supply the rest — all Montana grown, locally produced biodiesel.

Nestor "Jon" Soriano, the research biochemist at Northern's labs, said the could change the environment for biodiesel.

Right now, biodiesel doesn't seem to be selling, he said. If the railroads start using the alternative energy fuel, that would create a market.

Soriano said the test would significantly change the creation of greenhouse gases, as well. Changing to biodiesel with just one switch engine in Havre for one year will reduce greenhouse gas production by an estimated

1. 4 million tons, he said.

Soriano said that, while the federal government has not yet mandated that railroads use renewable alternative energy fuels in their locomotives, that that is likely to happen in the near future.

"BNSF, we are helping them prepare," he said.

Soriano said the tests will be very comprehensive.

BNSF will rebuild two switch engines so both essentially have brandnew engines. One will run on standard diesel; the other will run on the locally produced biodiesel, certified in Northern's lab.

BNSF will periodically tear the engines apart to test the parts and see what the difference is in engine wear. The hope is that they will not be unhappy with the results.

"They won't be, I can guarantee that," Kegel said.

Trocki said in the interview that BNSF and Gene ral Electric, which is a major partner with the railroad in its Havre operation, could turn into major supporters of using Montana-grown and processed biodiesel.

"We see i t as a great research opportunity with development up the road … for the Hi -Line and north-central Montana," he said, adding, "W're proving a case. If you make a 20-percent blend there will be no impact on engine performance; if anything, it will be increasing energy performance." He said the testing is just one of many partnerships Northern is working on, all of which could benefit the region, including representatives of Chevron tentatively coming to visit the campus July 21 to talk about Northern conducting testing in biofuels and biolubricants.

Other work involves testing being done for Boeing, for the Japanese company Hino Trucks — one of the largest producer of diesel trucks in the world — and Soriano said the U.S. Navy also has been in contact wi th Northern to discuss work on testing jet fuel produced from oilseed crops.


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