Breck’s biodiesel tests set a precedent |

Breck’s biodiesel tests set a precedent

BRECKENRIDGE – The eyes of the nation were on Breckenridge’s bus fleet this winter.

Town fleet officials have been using biodiesel – an alternative fuel made up of a mix of 80 percent diesel fuel and 20 percent soybean byproduct – since last summer to determine the fuel’s feasibility.

The mixture worked well in the summer, but some people were concerned that it might not work in the winter, when freezing temperatures could cause the fuel to congeal and render it useless.

That never happened, said Dan Bell, the assistant public works director for the town. And that has fleet managers throughout the nation impressed. The town’s efforts have earned Breckenridge a nomination for the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities award.

“That was the beauty of this project,” Bell said. “We started it up, and nothing happened. That’s what other people needed to hear.”

Currently, more than 300 large fleets use biodiesel, including departments in Arvada and Lakewood and the Jefferson County School District. Additionally, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and Yellowstone in Wyoming have implemented biodiesel programs.

Breckenridge’s program has attracted print, radio and television media from as far away as Korea.

Town officials became interested in the product when Green Party Council-member Jim Lamb suggested they research alternative energy sources. Since then, the town has tested hybrid, electric and propane vehicles, some of which could have uses in different departments in the future.

But biodiesel proved to be an early success story.

“I was initially pushing natural gas, and then biodiesel popped up,” Lamb said. “It was a great opportunity to use our existing rolling stock and inch our way off fossil fuels. I didn’t expect it to go as well as it has. Everyone had their fingers crossed this winter to see how it would do in this environment. It’s run perfectly. It’s been a great project.”

Breckenridge officials plan to convert the town’s entire fleet of 47 vehicles to biodiesel within the next 60 days, Bell said. They also plan to buy an electric GEM vehicle for the landscaping department, a bi-fuel pickup for the open space department and replace cars with hybrids.

“Definitely the commitment is there to use alternative fuels in the town of Breckenridge,” Lamb said. “We stuck our necks out a little bit, and it worked.”

Bell has been fielding calls all winter from officials all over the nation who wonder how well biodiesel has worked for Breckenridge. Most of those who have called Bell hail from the northern half of the nation, where freezing temperatures can set in for months on end.

Breckenridge’s success doesn’t surprise those in the industry, however.

“The use of biodiesel only goes up,” said Jenna Higgins of the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City, Mo. “Virtually every week we get reports of new fleets using it.”

Interest isn’t limited to municipalities, either, she said. Those in the marine and off-road markets have expressed interest, and some gas stations have even started offering the alternative fuel at their diesel fuel pumps.

General use could increase, too, Higgins said, if a proposed tax exemption makes it through the U.S. Senate.

“We’ll see demand for biodiesel go through the roof,” Higgins said. “It’s almost scary.”

Demand won’t exceed capacity, though. It’s easy to process soybeans for use in diesel engines, and, therefore, it would be easy to ramp up production for the fuel, Higgins said. Then it’s just a matter of distribution.

“The real question is, where do we go from here?” Lamb said. “This was a great start. I didn’t know what to expect, but knew we had to give it a try.”

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

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