"Green’ fuel touted as way to decrease dependence on oil, help soybean farmers and clean the air | SummitDaily.com

"Green’ fuel touted as way to decrease dependence on oil, help soybean farmers and clean the air

Biodiesel trivia

? U.S. diesel operators have used biodiesel in more than 60 million road miles

? Breckenridge is one of more than 200 fleets using the fuel commercially

? If the major ski towns on the Western Slope used biodiesel, 6 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 20,000 pounds of carbon monoxide and 2,000 pounds each of particulate matter, hydrocarbons and sulfur into the environment each year.

? For more information, visit http://www.biodiesel.org.

BRECKENRIDGE – Dan Bell can’t wait for his annual performance evaluation so he can tell his boss how little he’s done this past year – and how much it’s paid off for the town of Breckenridge.

Bell, the town assistant public works director, has researched and implemented biodiesel – an environmentally friendly fuel mixture – into some of the town’s heavy duty vehicles, including two buses and a street sweeper. The Breckenridge Ski Resort and Arapahoe Basin used the fuel in snowcats and other heavy-duty vehicles last winter.

The fuel – a mixture of diesel fuel and soybean-based derivative – has been used throughout Europe for 15 years. It made its Colorado debut at Peterson Air Force Base, which has incorporated the fuel into its entire fleet of diesel-using vehicles.

The fuel has been proven to reduce particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbon emissions in the air. It costs less to make, unlike other alternative fuels, whose costs often outweigh the benefits; it’s less toxic than table salt, biodegrades as fast as sugar, requires few – and then, only minor – changes to diesel engines, reduces the nation’s dependency on foreign oil and is easy to implement, said Joe Jobe, director of the National Biodiesel Board.

“I made a phone call to our (fuel) distributor, bought it, burned it in an engine and nothing happened – everything was the same,” Bell told fleet managers at the Rocky Mountain Biodiesel Symposium Wednesday in Breckenridge. “That’s my definition of success.”

In the past three months, town officials have been experimenting with the fuel in hopes of reducing emissions in the town’s fleet of diesel-run vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced the town is a Clean Cities Program success story. The Clean Cities Program draws entities together to form coalitions to leverage resources, develop joint projects, collaborate on public policy issues and promote alternative fuel vehicles in their communities.

The results

“At first, the council was a little reluctant to do this, based on anecdotal information we’d received,” said Mayor Sam Mamula. “But the benefits of biodiesel are pretty obvious. We decrease our country’s reliance on foreign fossil fuels, and we support the backbone of our country: the farmers.”

Regardless, Bell’s been waiting for the proverbial red flags to present themselves.

“I thought it would be the cost, or maybe it’s a great idea but it hasn’t really been invented yet,” Bell said. “The red flags never came up. I made a call, filled the tanks and drove away. We were in the biodiesel business. It’s that simple for us. I made a couple of phone calls and decreased the town of Breckenridge’s dependence on foreign oil 20 percent.”

At first, there was a little bit of “operator resistance,” the most notable involving a driver who complained that biodiesel was to blame for excessive noise and power loss in his vehicle. An inspection revealed the problems were due to a giant hole in the radiator.

If the pilot program is successful this fall, Bell plans to convert the town’s entire fleet of about 30 vehicles over to biodiesel.

“We got into it thinking we’d be leaders in the energy realm,” he said. “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.”

The fuel costs 14 to 17 cents more per gallon than regular diesel fuel. That hasn’t deterred municipalities and private fleet owners from using the alternative fuel, Jobe said. In 1999, 500,000 gallons of the fuel were sold in the U.S. – albeit mostly to the soybean and biodiesel industries for research and development. The following year, 5 million gallons were sold; last year, that number jumped to 15 million gallons and this year, the industry expects to sell 25 million gallons. Customers include most branches of the military, public utilities, school districts and municipalities, among others.

The town of Breckenridge uses about 2,000 gallons of fuel a month. By using biodiesel in the suggested 20-80 ratio with diesel fuel, the town decreases its diesel demands by 400 gallons a month.

That is important to those crafting the national energy policy in Washington, D.C., Jobe said, many of whom are the same people addressing the turmoil in the Middle East, where much of America’s oil is procured.

“This American industry can come from the Midwest rather than the Middle East,” said Richard Borgsmiller, chairman of the United Soybean Board and a farmer in southern Illinois. “Not only will it decrease our dependency on foreign oil, it stimulates rural communities across the country.”

The town benefits in environmental and political ways, too.

“We’ve received very positive reactions from people who live here,” Bell said. “We live and die in the public eye, so this is very important to us. And on a grander scale, in a smaller town, to get the opportunity to influence the world around you is very rare.”

We are a small town,” Mamula said. “We are making a small impact. But small steps do add up.”

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

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