Biofuels are gaining traction, lending
support to manufacturers of tanks used to hold the alternative
forms of energy.
"We've seen an increase in sales because of
biodiesel and ethanol," said Greg Aymong, vice president of
wastewater treatment and biofuels at Highland Tank &
Manufacturing Co., Stoystown, Pa., which has six plants and 20
sales and engineering offices around the country. The company
is on course to produce 100 tanks this year vs. 30 last year
and ten times the 10 tanks produced in 2005.
The amount of material that goes into such
tanks can be considerable. Jeff Cavey, standard tank sales
manager at Modern Welding Co. Inc., Newark, Ohio, said that a
10,000- to 12,000-gallon tank might need between 8,000 and
10,000 pounds of stainless steel. Some ethanol producers use
million-gallon tanks that are field-fabricated.
Several sources said biofuel tanks don't
necessarily have to be made of stainless steel, although it is
the material of choice because it helps prevent corrosion that
might ensue from potentially harsh ethanol and biodiesel
"So far, there has only been a couple
instances where we included a stainless steel tank in a project
or package for a biodiesel or an ethanol system," Cavey said.
"A stainless steel tank is for a very specific byproduct of the
ethanol-making process. But for end-use tanks, it goes back to
the fact that if you can put ethanol in your car's gas tank it
should be fine in a traditional storage tank."
When sourcing for biodiesel, in most cases
Highland produces a carbon steel tank coated with a polyester
or an epoxy, Aymong said. Many ethanol facilities use stainless
steel, but some use carbon steel. "Some of the historic trends
in manufacturing, in this case alcohols, are related back to
using food-quality manufacturing techniques," he said. "Many
facilities making alcohol for consumption are used to working
with stainless, so we see that carrying over even with
production of ethanol for motor fuel. It's not across the
board, but a majority (of orders) on our part that do come
through are stainless."
Because of the increase in the price of
stainless steel this year, there has been some material
substitution, Aymong said. "The result has been a closer look
by the consumer in a coated carbon steel tank. The hike has
increased the use of coated carbon (products) in applications
that would have been stainless steel."
The return of customers to stainless isn't
necessarily a given if coated carbon works just as well in the
application. "Once customers get a taste of the success of the
product, they may be in for life," Aymong said.
While there has been some boost in the use of
stainless for biofuel refineries and tanks, there hasn't been
the same boom for pipelines used to move the product to
Two issues limit transporting ethanol by
pipeline water infiltration and corrosion, according to the
American Petroleum Institute (API), Washington. Water
penetrating the pipeline can dilute the ethanol, and there is
evidence that ethanol can corrode pipelines, the API said.
Since ethanol is shipped by barge, rail or truck and then
blended with the gasoline as the tanker truck is loaded for
retail delivery, this could affect consumer costs and create
environmental impacts associated with the different modes of
alternate transportation, the group said. While building
dedicated ethanol pipelines has been considered to deal with
water and corrosion issues specific to the product, the API
said siting problems, as well as the dispersed nature and
limited production of ethanol, might not generate the volume
needed for new pipeline construction.
Despite the current challenges of biofuels
production and distribution costs, Aymong remains bullish on
the industry. "Look at the price of a barrel of oil, which
continues to go up," he said. "I look at world events as very
concerning. The addition of biodiesel and ethanol are extremely
necessary to wean ourselves away from these unsecure suppliers
around the world."