Canadian Fuels Association members produce, distribute and sell the transportation fuels that support the mobility of all Canadians. At all stages in the process that brings fuels to the point of sale, our members are achieving impressive goals for community involvement, innovation and environmental performance. In this issue of Perspectives, we talk to three individuals who make a difference.

Pursuing breakthroughs in biodiesel

Greg Rockwell works to crack the cold­-climate limitations of this renewable fuel.

Considering Greg Rockwell’s doctoral thesis, it is surprising he ended up in the petro-chemical industry. At Dalhousie University, the chemist developed nano­structured films to enable the study of physical processes such as protein binding—primarily for medical devices such as stents.

“My plan was to do a post-doctoral fellowship,” says Rockwell. “I was going to explore different areas of research before deciding whether I wanted a position as a professor or a job in industry.”

But a Dalhousie alumnus at Imperial had seen Rockwell’s résumé online and suggested he apply to the oil giant.

“It was quite a leap,” admits Rockwell. “To uproot my wife and me from Halifax—where both our families lived—to Sarnia, Ontario.”

The gamble paid off. Today, he’s a leading researcher at Imperial’s Sarnia Technology Applications & Research facility. The operation has a strong research record in biofuels, having led projects for the National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative and developed the cold soak filter blocking tendency test for pure biodiesel.

Rockwell also serves as Imperial’s voting member on the Canadian General Standards Board committees for middle distillate fuels and gasoline and alternative automotive fuels. “I provide technical input to these committees, which develop and maintain standards for products such as diesel, biodiesel, gasoline, ethanol, heating oil and propane.”

Yet his primary focus remains a search for ways to make biodiesel use a more feasible option in the cold winter conditions experienced in much of Canada.

“I’ve been exploring biodiesel use in cold climates,” says Rockwell, “particularly potential impacts on product quality.”

In Canada, biodiesel composed of fatty-acid methyl esters (FAME) is the primary renewable component used in diesel fuel. The FAME, however, increases the tendency of the diesel to form wax crystals, gel and plug fuel filters in winter temperatures.

“This is a hot area for us,” he says, “We’re not at the breakthrough stage, but I think we’re accumulating valuable knowledge in low-temperature performance, which is a precondition for pushing past biodiesel’s current limitations.”

“This is a hot area for us…
I think we’re accumulating
valuable knowledge.”