REG Lab Has the Answers

The Iowa Department of Transportation turns to the REG technical services team for fuel-related issues.


For the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) fleet, fuel performance can be a public safety issue.

More than 900 of its 1,500 diesel-powered vehicles are snowplow trucks responsible for clearing roadways during Iowa’s long and snowy winters. Other trucks are used for bridge inspections and to change lights that illuminate roadways. In addition, a city fire department and ambulances fuel at Iowa DOT headquarters in Ames.

So when the Iowa DOT, which has been using biodiesel blends for more than two decades, has a fuel-related question, it needs to know exactly what’s going on and it needs answers quickly. That’s why it turns to the technical services team at Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG) for the toughest questions.

“REG has a world-class laboratory with world-class professionals working there,” says David May, Fleet Manager for Iowa DOT. “They’re always interested in getting to the bottom of it, and their response is always timely.”

Resolving the toughest problems

May’s favorite example of this is when one of the Iowa DOT’s 50 fueling locations was experiencing filter plugging issues at the dispenser.

They couldn’t figure out why it was happening, so May took a fuel sample and the filter to the lab at REG headquarters in Ames.

The REG technical services team has a state-of the-art facility that allows them to perform a root cause analysis to determine why an issue is happening.

“What they determined was the problem was related to a drag-reducing agent, which is used in pipelines to help reduce friction,” May says.

Typically, the additive is diluted to the point that it is not a problem. REG, with the help of a mass spectrometer, an instrument used for sample analysis, was able to trace the issue to a concentrated amount of a drag-reducing agent making its way to the Iowa DOT fueling site.

“This was a very rare problem,” May says. “Rare to the extent that I asked our Iowa DOT lab and other fuel labs, and no one had ever heard of a drag reducer being present in a level that plugs fuel filters.”

Better performance with biodiesel

May and the folks at the Iowa DOT can’t tell a difference in performance when using emissions-reducing biodiesel. In fact, they see performance-related benefits.

“We believe we have fewer fuel-system-related failures because biodiesel adds lubricity,” he says. “Also, our plow operators can tell if there’s a reduction in horsepower, and we have all the horsepower that we would ever want with biodiesel. And I can say that the pricing tends to be favorable between biodiesel and petroleum diesel.”

The Iowa DOT gets some but not all of its biodiesel blended fuel from REG. But May always seeks the expertise of the REG technical services team when there’s a difficult question he needs to get answered.

“REG has been very generous in their willingness to help solve puzzles, and they don’t care whose fuel it is,” he says. “They just want to help us resolve any issues we’re having.”