Biodiesel hits the roads |

Biodiesel hits the roads

by Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – If you think you smell french fries in Breckenridge, it might be because you’re following a town bus.

Public works officials are testing biodiesel fuel in a town trolley, a bus and a street sweeper to see how well the environmentally friendly fuel helps cut down on emissions. The product, a blend of diesel and soybeans, also is being used in some Breckenridge Ski Resort and Arapahoe Basin ski area vehicles.

Tests have shown the blend reduces particulate matter by 31 percent, carbon monoxide 21 percent and hydrocarbons by 27 percent.

“So far, so good,” said Dan Bell of the town public works department. “We’re not really expecting any problems.”

The three town vehicles were outfitted with the fuel Friday, and drivers have had no problems relating to power or fuel consumption, Bell said. Biodiesel does, however, tend to clean the gunk out of engines, so public works employees are prepared to replace a few fuel filters.

Bell said if tests go well this summer, they will convert the entire fleet of diesel engines to the new fuel.

“The beauty of biodiesel is that if it doesn’t work out, you just put regular diesel in and the test is over,” he said.

Another big test will come this winter, when the temperatures begin to drop. The fuel supplier in Leadville is trying to determine at what point the mixture will gel. In theory, Bell said, any gelling problems should be solved by using a higher concentration of high-grade diesel.

The fuel costs about 17 cents more per gallon than does regular diesel, Bell said.

Officials at the Breckenridge Ski Resort also are testing the fuel in two of their buses. And like the town, the real test will come this winter.

“We really want to use it; we feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Rick Sramek, director of mountain operations for the ski area. “But we still have questions about its viability as a winter-time fuel. We were told the stuff works just fine, that we don’t have to worry about it. But now we’re hearing the stuff gels at a relatively high temperature.”

Sramek said a vehicle maintenance employee obtained a sample of 100 percent biodiesel, put in a freezer at the shop and within 10 or 15 minutes the material had gelled.

“And that was at 20 degrees,” Sramek said. “We get 100 below-20-degree nights at the ski area each season. Those are temperatures we get every night. We still have to work through that. Now’s the time to find that out, not December.”

Ultimately, he’d like to use biodiesel in the resort’s 18 snowcats and 19 buses.

“Our expectation on it isn’t that there will be a huge increase in power,” Sramek said. “We’re looking for equipment that runs well and in reducing particulate matter. And we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to try it.”

Arapahoe Basin converted all its diesel vehicles, including five snowcats and two pieces of heavy machinery, to biodiesel in May, said Alan Henceroth, director of mountain operations for the ski area.

“It worked great,” he said. “We didn’t notice any operational differences.”

Henceroth acknowledges the verdict’s still out on how well biodiesel will perform in the winter, but he’s optimistic. And he said he’s looking forward to doing his part to help the environment.

“I think it’s widely accepted that climate change is occurring,” Henceroth said. “Greenhouse gases affect climate change, and using biodiesel is a tremendous way to reduce the production of them. We’ll stick with the biodiesel unless we start having problems.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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