Senior project development director, AURI
Have you driven by a utility pole today? The likelihood is that your answer is "yes." Have you thought about how long that same pole has been there? If not, that may be because that pole has been in its same place for many years, and many of us don't even notice these essential tools anymore.
Most utility poles should last around 30 years, which has been made possible in the past by a petroleum-based wood preservative treatment. When a Minnesota utility pole treatment company received complaints from neighbors about the smell from its treatment plant, it into a new base for its preservative: biodiesel, the soy-based fuel.
Biodiesel addresses the odor problems caused by the petroleum base, and AURI recently facilitated testing to better determine the effectiveness of biodiesel as a treatment base in comparison with the petroleum base. The result? Biodiesel came through with flying colors.
Through tests done by Meg Corp, a fuel consulting company, and Michigan Technology University, it was found that biodiesel treatment stopped rot as well as petroleum. In addition, scientists tested whether or not the biodiesel base would allow chemicals to be leached into the ground. Again, biodiesel was comparable with petroleum on this front. In addition biodiesel appears to penetrate more deeply into the wood and more effectively repels water from the surface of the wood - all factors that enhance the performance of this treatment.
This biobased wood preservative is an important market for the makers of biodiesel. Currently, the preservative uses B20 - a 20 percent blend of biodiesel and 80 percent conventional No. 2 diesel. At its current rate of consumption, the utility pole manufacturer uses 400,000 gallons of B20 a year. Conservative estimates for the wood preservative market potential at B20 would be 8 million gallons. In addition, there's the potential of a blend up to B50; testing so far has indicated no issues with blends that are up to 50 percent biodiesel.
Products like biodiesel are environmentally friendly, renewable and come from our own farm economy. Using biodiesel as a preservative base for treating utility poles is a win for everyone involved.