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Posted on  

January 15, 2004

City fleet going natural

Biodiesel fuel to join low-emission vehicles

By Alisha Jeter, Enterprise Staff Writer

When the city's snowplows take to the roads next season, they'll be helping to clear the air as well as the streets.

The city will convert to less-polluting biodiesel for its snowplows and other diesel-burning equipment in the next two months, said Mark Clapper, Broomfield fleet and facilities manager. The city will pump a 20 percent blend biodiesel, expected to cut emissions by 20 percent over traditional diesel fuel. The fuel is comprised of soy bean oil and diesel.

The move to biodiesel is part of Broomfield's overall program to reduce pollutants within its fleet and to comply with the federal Clean Air Act, Clapper said. Natural gas is also used in the fleet, which also includes low-emission vehicles. The city began buying more environmentally friendly vehicles in 1999 and plans to convert the entire fleet to low-emission engines, Clapper said.

There are 328 vehicles and other equipment in the city's fleet. He said he hoped to buy the city's first hybrid vehicle next year.

Several agencies across the Denver metro area are switching at least partially to biodiesel and other alternative fuels, such as natural gas, propane and gas-electric hybrid energy, said Sara O'Keefe, program manager for the Regional Air Quality Council. The RAQC launched a program to support the switch in public and private fleets in June 2003, called Clean Air Fleets.

"It'll really help us all year if more municipalities change their fleets," O'Keefe said. "We've had a little more resistance from the private fleets, but we've had good participation from public fleets."

About 10 percent of the city of Boulder's approximately 450 vehicles run on alternative fuels, including nine on biodiesel. The city aims to replace retired vehicles with alternative-fuel-burning vehicles 60 percent of the time, said Bill Boyes, Boulder facilities and assets manager. The city began experimenting six months ago with biodiesel in anticipation of deciding whether to convert all of its diesel-powered equipment, Boyes said.

It's the latest in a 2-year-old program to move to ethanol-based fuel and other alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, he said.

Littleton Public Schools switched most of their buses to biodiesel nearly two years ago, transportation service manager Jerry Ryan said.

"We've had just great success with it," Ryan said. "It's a little cold-weather unfriendly, but I haven't had any problems with it because I've been able to treat the engine with the blend."

Critics of the fuel call attention to biodiesel's tendency to freeze in cold weather, especially when it's 100 percent biodiesel. Freezing can lead to vehicles refusing to start, Clapper said. Boyes and Ryan said they haven't seen that in their fleets, both of which run on the 20 percent blend.

The fuel is clean-burning, however, and has meant longer stretches between oil changes in his 64 buses, Ryan said. It saved him $19,000 last year, more than enough to offset the $16,000 extra in fuel charges, he said.

Biodiesel costs, on average, 15 to 20 cents more than traditional diesel, he said.
 

 

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