Hagman, an energy conservationist whose family owns five Toyota Prius hybrids said, "I really think this is the future."
Richard Williamson - Scripps Howard News - Feb. 8, 2007
2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD B5 today, B20 tomorrow.
Diesel engines have come a long way since Robert Cole started working on them nearly 30 years ago.
Once dirty, smelly and loud, diesels are today surprisingly clean, quiet and efficient, says Cole, who also believes they have an important role to play in reducing American dependence on foreign oil.
A county commissioner in Santa Rosa County, Fla., Cole is promoting development of biodiesel as a way to support farmers in areas like the Florida panhandle while expanding urban energy sources. Biodiesel feed stocks can range from chicken fat to marijuana or a variety of other hardy weeds. But canola, soybean and cotton oil are more common sources. One advocate even plans to convert some of his own body fat into fuel for his biodiesel speedboat.
"Biodiesel is taking the oldest industry in the world - farming - and combining it with one of the newest," said Cole, a diesel mechanic and owner of Bob Cole9s Import Automotive in Pensacola, Fla.
As the father of an Army National Guard soldier serving in Iraq, Cole is also acutely aware of the high price of maintaining the country9s dependence on foreign oil.
So, Cole was among the more interested members of the audience at the National Biodiesel Board Conference in San Antonio this week, where automakers, biodiesel producers and related industries swapped ideas and mapped out plans for bringing biodiesel further into the mainstream.
While some well-known proponents of biodiesel, such as singer Willie Nelson drive vehicles that run on 100 percent biodiesel, production models such as Cole's Jeep Liberty are only warrantied to run on fuel that is 5 percent biodiesel.
The biodiesel content could rise to 20 percent if efforts by automakers such as DaimlerChrysler are successful. Lacking an industry standard for the fuel known as B20, makers cannot yet designate their diesels as alternative fuel vehicles, says Deb Morrissett, vice president of regulatory affairs for DaimlerChrysler.
"I'm looking forward to the time when anyone can fuel up with B20, but we9re not there yet," she said. As for the biological source of the fuel, "I don't care what the feed stock is, whether it's chicken fat or canola. All I care about is what it looks like when it goes into the tank."
To demonstrate the potential of biodiesel fuel, Morrissett brought her own pre-production Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD (Common Rail Diesel) to the conference, where it was filled with B5 from Organic Fuels Ltd. of Galena Park, Texas.
The Grand Cherokee CRD, which goes on sale in March, boasts a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy and 20 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline-powered equivalents.
The new 3-liter V6 CRD engine, built by Mercedes-Benz, produces 215 horsepower and 376 foot-pounds of torque at 1,600 rpm. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles city and 25 miles highway for 4x2 models and 20/24 mpg for 4x4 models.
"I'm getting about 23 miles per gallon," Morrissett said. "My old Grand Cherokee got about 17."
While that kind of efficiency is not likely to garner much praise from environmentalists, it's not bad for a full-size SUV.
On the road, the Grand Cherokee CRD cruised quietly past the Alamo, drawing no complaints from its caretakers, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Turning off the historic downtown streets, the Grand Cherokee responded lustily to the invitation of a freeway entrance ramp. At highway passing speeds, the diesel sounds more akin to a muscle car than the vintage marble mixer many diesel drivers recall.
Aside from its power train, the GC diesel is the same luxurious SUV that was redesigned for the 2006 model year.
The CRD V6 will be available on the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and Overland rear-drive and 4x4 models, with prices beginning at $38,475.
One of the appealing aspects of biodiesel fuel versus ethanol and other alternative fuels is that it requires no changes in service station infrastructure.
"We want to make the fuel compatible with the vehicle, not vice versa," says Loren Beard, senior manager for fuel legislation, regulation and policy at DaimlerChrysler.
While diesels may lack the glamour of hybrid-powered vehicles, there is a strong demand, automakers say.
"When we introduced the Jeep Liberty in 2005, we expected to sell 5,000 by now," Beard said. "We sold 15,000, and the word-of-mouth advertising was amazing."
Keith Price, spokesman for Volkswagen and diesel enthusiast, says that contrary to popular belief, demand for diesels outstripped supplies, even when diesels were dirty.
Demand for VW diesels peaked in 1982, with 52 percent penetration of the U.S. market, Price said. A quarter century later, nearly 11 percent of the VW diesels sold in that year are still on the road, he said. In fact, VW will soon launch a contest that seeks the longest-running diesel-powered VW.
"We expect it to be a Rabbit," Price said.
VW got a boost at the biofuels conference when actor Larry Hagman (a.k.a. oilman J.R. Ewing from the old TV show "Dallas") took a biodiesel fueled VW Touareg on a test drive with some friends.
"It's got great pickup," said Hagman, an energy conservationist whose family owns five Toyota Prius hybrids. "I really think this is the future."