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SUPPLIES of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) should be more than adequate to meet the needs of new trucks powered by the new 2010 engines. Most of those engines will have an emission control system that includes selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and uses DEF on the treatment process.

Recent estimates suggest that Class 8 truck sales probably won't exceed 151,000 units in 2010 and could be as low as 133,000 units. Based on current buying patterns, about 60% of the trucks sold will have the SCR system. If the estimates hold true, the demand for DEF (an automotive grade of liquid urea) will be relatively modest at the outset.

The solution used for diesel exhaust fluid consists of 32% urea and 68% mineral water. The ideal operating range for the product is 15° F to 85° F. DEF has a shelf life of about six months, after which the ammonia needed for the diesel emission reduction process begins to fall out of the urea solution.

An over-the-road Class 8 tractor averaging 120,000 miles a year will consume about 400 gallons of DEF during that time. A 20-gallon DEF tank on the tractor would have to be refilled 20 times over the course of the year. A medium-duty truck probably would require 10 DEF refills during the year.

DEF for 2010 trucks with the SCR emission control system will be provided through a supply chain that includes a growing number of urea processors in the United States and overseas. Among these suppliers are Old World Industries that will market its BlueDEF product under the PEAK brand; Yara North America that will distribute its Air1 brand of DEF through Mansfield Oil Company's DeliveryOne network; Terra Environmental Technologies that partnered with Brenntag North America for dedicated bulk distribution; and Airgas, new entrant to the DEF market.

Representatives for these companies predict that they will sell as much as 30 million gallons of DEF in 2010, and demand should reach about a billion gallons over the next 10 years. While the initial prediction may be overly optimistic, the North American DEF market certainly will grow in coming years.

Packaging options

DEF will be available in various quantities from one-gallon containers to tank trailer loads. The supply chain will include fleet terminals, truckstops, fuel retailers, truck dealerships, service centers, and retail stores like NAPA and AutoZone.

About 80% of the vocational trucking market (with trucks ranging from Class 3 to Class 8) will purchase DEF through truckstops and retail service stations, according to a study by the Quixote Group. The vocational group included tank transport and construction fleets.

Representatives of the truckstop sector have made it clear that they will be ready for the rollout of the 2010 trucks with SCR emission control technology. For instance, Pilot Travel Centers LLC began installing 25 bulk DEF dispensing units per quarter at selected locations, starting in the third quarter of 2009. The rollout will continue through the second quarter of 2010.

Pilot's goal is to outfit about 100 strategically located truckstops with bulk DEF dispensing capabilities at the fuel island. All 328 Pilot locations will carry packaged quantities of DEF. Other truckstop operators have announced similar programs.

Evolving demand

For the first three years after trucks with the SCR engines enter the market, about 80% of the DEF will be sold in one- and 2.5-gallon bottles, 55-gallon drums, and 275- and 330-gallon intermediate bulk containers, according to Bob Gray, Mansfield Oil Company director of business development and biofuels.

As the population of trucks with SCR systems grows, demand for bulk distribution of DEF also will increase. Chad Johnson, Gilbarco Veeder-Root marketing manager for Encore dispensers, says bulk distribution through automated dispensers should grow rapidly at retail locations, such as truckstops.

Gilbarco sells the Encore S DEF dispenser that bolts onto existing Gilbarco fuel dispensing and control systems. Designed to look like the widely used Encore diesel and gasoline dispensers, the Encore S has a thermostatically controlled heated cabinet and covered storage space for the dispensing nozzle to keep the DEF flowing in ambient temperatures as low as -30° F.

The DEF dispenser can pump up to 20-gallons per minute, which means it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to fill a 20-gallon DEF tank on a heavy-duty truck, according to Johnson. Initially, most retail locations will connect the dispenser to a 2,000-gallon self-contained tank mounted on a skid pad. Underground storage tanks will become more common as the market evolves.

Tank truck opportunity

The emerging bulk DEF market will be a prime opportunity for the tank truck industry. Carriers will need the proper equipment, though. Tank trailers and truck-mounted cargo tanks can be non-code but must be constructed from 304 stainless steel at a minimum. Cargo tanks must be insulated to protect the urea from freezing temperatures. Stainless steel pumps with filters will be needed. Seals and product hoses should be made of urea-compatible materials such as EPDM (ethylene-propylene diene monomer).

“It's critical to avoid tank hardware containing iron or carbon steel and alloy materials such as aluminum or brass,” says Barry Lonsdale, president of Terra Environmental Technologies. “Ideally, cargo tanks should be dedicated to DEF. We think dedicated tanks are the best way to limit the need for cleaning, which adds to shipping costs and might leave residues that could contaminate a DEF shipment.”

While bulk demand may take several years to develop, the DEF market definitely is emerging. Participants in the DEF supply are ready to meet the needs of the trucking industry as new trucks SCR emission control systems enter service beginning in January 2010.

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