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County buses, trucks running cleaner

DUFFY HAYESsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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SUMMIT COUNTY – With gas prices boosting to near record highs, it’s not particularly easy being green these days. But the recent run-up in the price of fuel isn’t stopping the county’s diesel fleet of buses and trucks from adopting an environmentally-friendly biodiesel program, according to Summit Stage director John Jones.Jones said that since April, Summit Stage buses, county trucks and equipment with diesel engines have been fueling up with a blend of 10 percent soybean extract and regular diesel fuel – and have consequently been emitting noticeably cleaner exhaust into the nearly pristine atmosphere around town.”It’s cleaner to run (biodiesel), and it also somewhat lessens our dependence on foreign oil,” Jones said, touting biodiesel’s obvious advantages.Studies have shown that by using a 20 percent blend of bioproduct and petroleum diesel, particulate matter is reduced 31 percent, carbon monoxide drops 21 percent, and total hydrocarbons decrease by 47 percent.While buses and trucks are running on a 10 percent blend right now, which Jones says will continue year-round, the county plans to up the blend percentage to 20 percent from June through September.

Jones was a bit sly in transitioning the county’s diesel fleet to the biodiesel program. He quietly switched the diesel fuel in April and said, “Nobody’s really noticed any difference at all.”This isn’t the county’s first brush with biodiesel; Jones recalled a program in 2002 which had to be discontinued because of blending issues that led to widespread mechanical failures.”This is a technology that’s still rather new, but we’ve got a good blender now,” Jones said.Before implementing the program, Jones consulted with a number of cities testing the blend the county eventually adopted. The Roaring Fork Transit Authority in Aspen has been up and running with few problems, and Telluride has also adopted biodiesel, going so far as running at least one bus with 100 percent biofuel (though that project encountered major maintenance problems, Jones said.)The town of Breckenridge has been on the bleeding edge of biodiesel technology, so to speak, starting up a similar program more than four years ago. A hiccup in the program last year – likely a blending issue, said assistant director of public works Dan Bell – caused the town to discontinue using biodiesel blends as high as 20 percent. But as of Nov. 23 of last year, all of the town’s buses, snowplows, heavy equipment and light-duty diesel-fired vehicles have been running on a 5 percent biodiesel blend.”Even though we’re using B5 now, we do see ourselves increasing the concentration in the future,” Bell said.

A program ‘they committed to’So why commit to spend more money on fuel, at a time when costs are skyrocketing to record levels?Jones said that the biodiesel program was something “they committed to” some years back, and that conditions last year (i.e. revenues collected to fund the Stage were down) made transition to a costlier fuel program not feasible. He said that this year the county decided to go ahead with the program “no matter what happens to the fossil component.”Even though fuel prices are through the roof today, as regular gas prices rise, the difference in price between regular fuel and biodiesel narrows. Last year, the difference in cost between biodiesel and regular was 20 cents, Jones said. This year, it’s just 7 cents.Jones said that the last load of fossil diesel bought cost the county $2.50 a gallon. He said the last biodiesel load bought cost $2.65.Generally speaking, the amount of fuel the county consumes is pretty amazing. They buy fuel 10,000 gallons at a time, every 8 to 10 days. The Summit Stage alone uses 20,000 gallons of fuel a month. Last year the county spent $540,000 on fuel, and Jones estimates that they’ll spend upwards of $750,000 this year.

Most of that increase can be attributed to fossil fuel cost increases. Jones has heard predictions that he’ll be paying between $3.25 and $3.75 a gallon soon. Pump prices at local gas stations could easily see $4 bucks a gallon, Jones warned.Diesel fuel is set to rise later this year, as well, but for more environmentally friendly reasons. Starting in September, federal mandates kick in to reduce the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel for over-the-road vehicles nationwide. Current diesel fuel is 500 parts per million of stinky, polluting sulfur. After September, new ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel will contain an amount of sulfur of just 15 parts per million.”That, along with the biodiesel, is really going to clean us up emissions-wise,” Jones said.Under the same federal mandate, sulfur particulate in diesel fuel will be required to be zero by 2010.”You’re not going to see that black stinky smoke anymore,” Jones predicted. “The diesel engine will be the cleanest piece of equipment out there by 2010.”Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at dhayes@summitdaily.com.


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