Breckenridge deems biodiesel a success |

Breckenridge deems biodiesel a success

BRECKENRIDGE – Dan Bell saved 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel this winter by pouring a soybean product into the engines of seven Breckenridge town vehicles and watching to see what happened.

Nothing did. And to Bell, Breckenridge’s assistant public works director, that meant success.

The soy products he used were mixed with diesel fuel to create biodiesel, an environmentally friendly fuel mixture. The town has been experimenting with the fuel to see if it would be feasible to use in the town’s 47 diesel vehicles.

Breckenridge fleet officials used it in various vehicles last summer, but the real test came this winter, when low temperatures could have caused the fuel mixture to congeal.

That didn’t happen, Bell told the town council Tuesday afternoon.

“We had no maintenance problems,” he said. “We lost an engine, we lost fuel pumps – but not in the vehicles associated with biodiesel.”

The fuel has been proven to reduce particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbon emissions in the air. It costs less to make than other alternative fuels, for which costs often outweigh the benefits; biodiesel is less toxic than table salt, biodegrades as fast as sugar, requires few – and then, only minor – changes to diesel engines, reduces the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and is easy to implement.

“We’re really excited about the success Breckenridge has had,” said Jenna Higgins, director of communications for the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City, Mo. “Breckenridge is a very high-profile place. They’re setting a positive example.”

The only downsides, Bell said, are the cost and the reluctance of engine manufacturers to continue warranty coverage for engines now using biodiesel.

The cost of biodiesel ranges from 12 to 20 cents a gallon more than diesel fuel. To use it year-round in town vehicles would cost $11,000 to $19,000, Bell said. But the town would use about 20,000 fewer gallons of petroleum fuel in doing so.

Like many towns throughout the High Country, Breckenridge is struggling with the weak economy and might not have the extra money to spend on the alternative fuel.

Mayor Sam Mamula, however, said keeping the environment healthy is one of the town’s top priorities.

“We don’t consider protecting the environment a luxury,” he said.

Town officials also have said they like the idea of supporting American soybean farmers.

Most alternative fuel grants are available for infrastructure or new equipment – neither of which Breckenridge needs, Bell said. But a Federal Transit Authority grant is available for operating costs, and if the town could secure that money, it could offset the cost of the biodiesel project by half.

Bell said earlier this year he was waiting for problems to present themselves, but nothing ever did.

“We got into it thinking we’d be leaders in the energy realm,” he said last summer. “It had a lot of momentum from the start; there’s been a lot of interest in it. But it needed to benefit the town in a real way or mesh with the philosophy of the town. Biodiesel serves both purposes.”

“I’m kind of relieved,” he said Wednesday. “Having proven it out is something other communities had some trouble with in the past.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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