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Tow Boats Powered By Diesel, But Not Biodiesel

Tow Boats Powered By Diesel, But Not Biodiesel
Farmers want to know if biodiesel could be used on tow boats.

As the tow boat moved 15 barges full of coal down the Ohio River last week, from the upper river to a destination down river where it will be likely used to produce electricity, farmers on a tour barge watched. Soon one of them asked the inevitable question. What type of fuel is powering those engines in the tow boat?

Pat Gossen of American Commercial Line4s, one of the key companies operating barge units out of the Port of Indiana at Jeffersonville, answered that they run on diesel fuel. The next questions was expected as well. Do they run on soy biodiesel?

The answer may not be what the farmer who asked it wanted to hear, but it is indicative that there is still work to do in the biodiesel arena. The answer, Gossen says, is as far as he knows, the tows use petroleum diesel and don't use any biodiesel fuel. That was confirmed later in the day. Even when they're pushing tons of corn and soybeans down the Ohio toward the Gulf Coast for export, they're doing it using diesel made from petroleum products, not from corn and soybeans.

As it turns out, one industry insider says the economics just haven't favored a look at biodiesel so far for the transportation industry moving grain and other commodities on the river. If the economics were to shift, this source expects that biodiesel would get a look from the shipping industry.

A tow boat typically pushes 15 barges full of cargo down the Ohio River. Tow boats on the Mississippi down river from Cairo, Illinois, may push loads of 15 to 40 barges, since they no longer have to worry about going through locks and dams. That's also why they can make up tot twice as many miles per day as tows pushing barges on he Ohio River, and perhaps two and one-half times as many miles per day as tow boats pushing loads down the Mississippi form the upper Midwest. Some of the locks most in need of work are to be found on the upper Mississippi River.

Sources give no indication that there are any projects underway to attempt to get biodiesel into the fuel tanks of the huge engines on the tow boats. Until the dollar and cent signs figure out right, authorities in the transportation industry don't seem interested.

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