County considering biodiesel but will wait for Breck’s results |

County considering biodiesel but will wait for Breck’s results

BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County’s commissioners say they want to try using biodiesel in their vehicle fleet. But before committing to it, they will wait to see how Breckenridge’s biodiesel program survives the winter.

The fuel is a mixture of diesel fuel and a soybean-based derivative.

Earlier this year, Breckenridge converted two buses and a street sweeper to biodiesel. A Breckenridge snowplow also will run on biodiesel this winter.

If all goes well, the town’s entire, 30-vehicle fleet will be converted in January.

But the county’s fleet manager, Steve Stephens, said one of biodiesel’s few drawbacks is its performance in freezing temperatures.

“In cold weather, essentially below zero degrees Fahrenheit, biodiesel will start to freeze up,” Stephens told the county commissioners. “When it starts gelling, forget it. You’re down.

“Overall, I’m in support of biodiesel. (But) I’m a little nervous on this. My bottom line is, let somebody else be the guinea pig for winter.”

The commissioners agreed.

“I’d like to see what it would take budgetwise to begin running this in the spring,” Commissioner Bill Wallace said.

Assistant County Manager Steve Hill said he would look into the impact of biodiesel on the county budget if Breckenridge’s program is successful this winter.

Biodiesel costs more than diesel – about 17 cents more per gallon. Per year, that adds up to an extra $50,000 in county fuel costs.

But Stephens pointed to biodiesel’s environmental benefits, the fact that it reduces an entity’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels and the low cost to convert engines from diesel to biodiesel. It’s also better for diesel engines, Stephens wrote in a memo to the commissioners, because it reduces friction between moving parts.

The county has 88 pieces of equipment that could be powered by biodiesel.

That includes 28 off-road vehicles – among them front-end loaders and bulldozers – 57 on-road vehicles, including Summit Stage buses, ambulances, road and bridge department plows and three stationary generators.

Breck’s biodiesel

Breckenridge assistant public works director Dan Bell said the town is concerned about how its biodiesel-fueled vehicles will perform this winter.

“That’s certainly been a reservation everyone has had,” he said.

“Our fuel supplier has been working on designing a fuel that should work in the wintertime. I still tend to believe that whatever problems there are can be overcome through design.”

The winter design likely will include a change in the soybean-based derivative and diesel mix.

“We may find the way to overcome any winter limits is to just go to a lower concentration of biodiesel, maybe as low as 5 percent,” Bell said. “Right now, we’re running 80/20 (diesel to soybean derivative). I know Grand Teton National Park runs 5 percent in the winter (because of cold).”

Bell said that so far, he and the town are pleased with the biodiesel program, which began in June.

“So far, we have no issues whatsoever,” he said. “The direction that I’ve taken with this from the very beginning is that we’ll continue on with the program until we see something that would cause us to turn back. That has yet to happen.

“But before I will go ahead and tell the biodiesel people that we’re going for it 100 percent, it’s in our best interest to prove it for ourselves.”

If biodiesel passes the cold test, Bell wants to convert the rest of Breckenridge’s fleet around the first of the year – a change for which the town has already budgeted.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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