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World Biofuels Symposium
November 13-15, 2005
Beijing, China

2nd Annual Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit
December 13-15, 2005
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Hosted by:
Candadian Renewable Fuels Association

National Biodiesel Conference & Expo 2006
February 5-8, 200
San Diego, California
National Biodiesel Board

11th Annual National Ethanol Conference: "Policy & Marketing"
February 20-22, 200
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Sponsored by:
Renewable Fuels Association

22nd Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo
June 20-23, 200
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

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Posted on  

January 4, 2002

Greener fuel grabs Northwest attention

By Craig Welch, Seattle Times staff reporter

BIODIESEL, a mixture of diesel and a cleaner-burning fuel, is being studied as an alternative energy source for everything from ferries to garbage trucks.

Garbage trucks in Tacoma are cleaning more than just trash from south Puget Sound.

All 85 of the diesel trucks the city uses to haul refuse and recycling are now being powered by a new mix of diesel and a cleaner-burning fuel made from peanut oil.

This "biodiesel" emits fewer pollutants, degrades like sugar and requires no modifications to a vehicle's engine. It's a renewable fuel, and even in its first year of use is expected to save the city money.

"The exhaust even smells sweeter like popcorn," said Steve Hennessey, fleet manager for the city.

Widely used in Europe, biodiesel is rising in popularity across the United States. Yellowstone National Park uses it in snowmobiles. The city of Seattle is testing it in about 20 trucks. The state is studying the use of biodiesel for the ferry system.

But last month, Tacoma became the first Northwest city to commit an entire fleet to the change. It's mixing biodiesel and diesel at a ratio of 20 percent to 80 percent.

"Biodiesel was something I'd followed for several years, so when we put our contract out for bid we put in an option and I was very surprised at the cost," Hennessey said.

Because the city committed to using 200,000 gallons a year, the fuel costs only about 24 cents a gallon more than straight diesel. And, rather than have waste haulers drive to the pumps every day, the contractor delivers the fuel in a tanker truck every morning.

"That more than offsets the extra cost," Hennessey said.

And so far, there have been no side effects, though at higher concentrations biodiesel can plug up fuel filters.

The move to biodiesel is in part designed to help build a marketplace for alternative fuels. Already, at least one company is considering building a biodiesel-fueling station outside Richland.

The use of alternative-fuel vehicles among public agencies is growing slowly. The Department of Energy in the early 1990s required federal agencies, states and utility providers to include alternative-fuel vehicles among the new vehicles they acquire.

"But that's only if they do any acquisitions," said Roxanne Dempsey, with the Energy Department's Clean Cities program.

For example, about 500 of the state of Washington's 10,000 vehicles are "flexible-fueled," meaning they could run on ethanol or gasoline at the flip of a switch. But of those, how many actually run on something other than gasoline?

"Next to none," said Kim Lyons, with Washington State University's alternative-fuels program. "The fuel costs a bit more, and since there's no commercial retailers with fueling islands nearby, agencies find it's hard to justify the expense with shrinking budgets."

But other agencies, such as Pierce Transit, jumped on early, before there were requirements. To date, more than half of the south Puget Sound agency's buses run on emissions-reducing compressed natural gas. The Port of Seattle plans to build a natural-gas fueling station and phase in its own fleet.

Still, each type of alternative fuel comes with complications. Hybrid electric vehicles cost more than gasoline-fueled cars. Compressed natural gas has very clean emissions but is still hydrocarbon-based and requires engine modifications. Ultra-low sulfur diesel requires the installation of a particulate trap or oxidation catalyst. Ethanol, because it's not produced in this region, has higher transport costs. Using 20 percent biodiesel, while requiring no serious engine modifications, is less beneficial to the environment than, say, the ultra-low sulfur.

"I'd really have a hard time saying which is best," Lyons said. "Biodiesel is getting a lot of attention right now in part because there aren't the high start-up costs. You can just stick it in an existing engine."

It is also getting attention because the Environmental Protection Agency, beginning as early as 2006, will be phasing in new emissions controls and clean-fuel standards for diesel engines.

In anticipation, Seattle, King County and Boeing already are moving to retrofit vehicle fleets to reduce particulate emissions by more than 90 percent.

During its own pilot study, Seattle's fleet is mixing ultra-low sulfur diesel with biodiesel.

"We've had a lot of success," said David Kerrigan, the city's fleet manager. "We're kind of trying to decide where to go from there. We want to make sure everything's compatible."



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