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Posted on  

November 17, 2003

Biodiesel planned for Missoula snowplows

The Missoulian

MISSOULA – They may not smell as good as french fries, but Missoula’s snowplows may be a bit less stinky this winter.

This month, the city motor fleet is starting a pilot project testing biodiesel fuel in its tanks. A new public tank at the Cenex station on Brooks Street is expected to open in late November, and the city trucks will be buying $2,500 worth of fuel there this winter.

“It’s beyond experimental,” said Sustainable Systems president Paul Miller, whose company is manufacturing biodiesel in Missoula. “It’s going to be open to the public. We’re trying to build a market to justify construction of a commercial facility.”

The fuel, known as B-20, is a mixture of 80 percent commercial diesel and 20 percent fuel-grade soybean oil. The University of Montana’s “Bio-bus” already uses the fuel on its campus shuttle route. The city will test it in snowplows, street sweepers, and if the fund holds out, diesel-fueled lawn mowers next spring.

City Vehicle Maintenance supervisor Jack Stucky said he originally requested $10,000 for biofuel purchases. The City Council cut that back to $2,500 for the test year. But the money goes only to the biofuel premium, in addition to Stucky’s regular budget for buying between 9,000 and 13,000 gallons of standard diesel fuel a year.

Stucky told the council’s Public Works Committee on Wednesday that the fuel would cut air pollution levels in his vehicles. But he was particularly pleased at a potential side effect of biofuel additives. Commercial diesel fuels have had most of their sulphur content removed in another pollution-reducing effort. But that sulphur was needed to keep fuel injectors and other engine parts lubricated. Stucky said it appears biofuels may return some of that lubricating quality to the tank.

At Cenex, bulk fuel assistant Mary Fleming said the big question was how well the additive would handle Montana’s cold winters. Diesel fuel already has a tendency to gel in low temperatures, and the concern is how to keep the biofuel from aggravating that.

“This is something the regional fuel manager and bulk manager decided to be the first ones to try,” Fleming said. “It has a different smell than diesel, but still has a diesel smell.”

At Sustainable Systems, Miller said it’s possible to make the biofuel from a range of sources, including waste vegetable oil, fat from rendering plants and seed oils. The company is working with Montana State University agricultural researchers to develop a profitable crop seed that could produce oil.

“We’re trying to reduce emissions and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of transportation fuel,” Miller said. Diesel-fueled automobiles tend to get better fuel efficiency, drawing power from about 44 percent of each gallon burned compared to about 30 percent from each gallon of gasoline, he said. And with newer passenger car engines that don’t have the rattle and stink of earlier generation motors, more drivers may be attracted to biodiesel’s qualities.

While it hasn’t been easily available, some dedicated Missoula motorists have been able to try the fuel in their passenger cars. Resident David Claman is one who said it kept him from giving up his 1985 diesel Volkswagen Jetta because the new fuel so improved the emissions.

“My exhaust was a lot cleaner looking,” Claman said. “It didn’t put out nearly as much smoke as the old petroleum diesel. And it’s kind of a pleasant odor. It’s very distinctive. If I see a car go by, I can smell if it’s biodiesel.”



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