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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

News From My Backyard: Portland Water Bureau Using B99 Biodiesel - Largest B99 Fleet In Country

Starting on September 26th, the Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau switched its fleet of diesel-powered vehicles to B99 (a fuel consisting of more than 99% bio-diesel), according to a Bureau press release. The bureau’s diesel-powered fleet has run on B20 (a 20% biodiesel / 80% petroleum diesel blend) since August, 2004.

“This effort makes the Water Bureau’s 84-vehicle diesel fleet the largest in the country running on B99,” says Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, “We’re doing our part to increase demand for biodiesel which will help to spur the development of Oregon-based production facilities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce our reliance on foreign oil.”

Bureau Administrator David Shaff adds, “We’ve analyzed the fuels and talked to experts on fuels and truck performance. We’ve tested B99. We expect this change to be almost cost neutral. We’re also analyzing performance. The bureau purchases about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually. Diesel vehicles carry stickers saying Powered by Biodiesel.”

In the winter months, the Bureau will modify the percentage of biodiesel to ensure that vehicles and equipment do not experience fuel gelling problems in colder weather, according to City.

According to the press release, the Water Bureau vehicles converting to B99 are the workhorses of municipal public works: backhoes, dump trucks, graders, excavators, water service trucks, welding and crane trucks, pick up trucks, compressors, forklifts, tractors, mowers, generators, work vans, passenger vans and some passenger vehicles. Some older vehicles will remain on B20 and vehicles at the Bull Run maintanence yard will run on a B50 blend, press release reports.

The City of Portland has been one of the more aggressive in the nation in the use of biodiesel. All city-owned diesel vehicles and equipment that use the City’s fueling stations have been powered by a B20 biodiesel blend since 2004, according to the City. Each year the City uses about 600,000 gallons of B20 in approximately 373 trucks, 166 pieces of construction equipment (backhoes, graders, excavators, etc.) and 62 towed units (compressors, generators, etc.), the City says.

According to the City, the conversion to a biodiesel blend began in 2001, when the City of Portland & Multnomah County’s Sustainable Procurement Strategy identified three target areas for improvement: biodiesel, hybrid vehicles, and vehicle purchasing performance standards. Soon after, Multnomah County conducted a one-year pilot study on the use of B20 in their fleet, showing promising results. By the August of 2004, both the City and the County had converted their diesel fleet vehicles to B20.

All City bureaus agreed to absorb the extra cost of switching to biodiesel - about $0.20 per gallon at the time - citing a number of benefits over traditional petrodiesel, including:

  • Utilization of renewable resources that could be produced domestically, and

  • Significantly reducing many of the air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions associated with using petrodiesel.

  • In light of the community health and environmental costs associated with these pollutants, the City decided that the price premium for the biodiesel was more than offset by the gains in improving local air quality

    Additionally, in July 2006, the Portland City Council voted to approve a citywide renewable fuels standard requiring that all diesel sold in Portland contain 5% biodiesel (B5) and all gasoline contain 10% ethanol (E10), effective July 2007. In an effort to maximize the City’s own use of renewable fuels, they also created a binding City Policy formally requiring that all City-owned:

  • Diesel vehicles use a minimum of B20;

  • Gasoline vehicles use E10; and

  • Flex-Fuel Vehicles use fuel containing 85% ethanol (E85).

  • The city is now also requiring all solid-waste hauling franchisees—businesses awarded franchises by the city for the collection of solid waste—to use B20 biodiesel blends in their refuse vehicles.

    The Portland-metro area transit authority, Tri-Met, has also expanded the use of biodiesel, and has used a B20 blend in all 210 of their LIFT service buses, which provide door-to-door service for elderly and people with disabilities, since May 2006 [see previous post].

    I'm continually proud to live in the city of Portland. The committment across the board from city officials and leaders to making Portland one of the most sustainable cities in the world has been a source of pride for our city and has had real economic benefits as well, encouraging many 'green-minded' residents and businesses to make Portland their home.

    My question now, with the expanded use of biodiesel across the city (and state), is where is it all coming from? Initially, the bulk of biodiesel utilzied in Oregon was provided by SeQuential Pacific Biofuels, who converts used cooking oils to biodiesel in a very efficient process performed in-state at their Salem biodiesel production facility. I'm curious how much of the biodiesel consumed in state continues to be produced in-state/in-region and is sourced from in-state or in-region supplies of used cooking oil, and how much of it comes from soy-based biodiesel from outside of the state. Obviously, the economic development benefits, process efficiency, and environmental benefits of biodiesel use are greater for Oregon when the product is produced in or around Oregon and is based on in-state or in-region feedstocks.

    If the region wants to continue to reap the full benefits of the continued expansion of biodiesel consumption, it needs to develop strategies to increase in-region production of both feedstocks and fuels. The Northwest is unfortunately not well suited to soy cultivation. Canola could be grown in the region as a feedstock for biodiesel production, but it presents a problem as canola is closely related to a wide variety of high-value 'boutique' and specialty crops grown throughout much of the Northwest, and concerns about cross-polination have resulted in state policies that currently preclude growing canola in much of Oregon's prime agricultural lands. I know that the State Departments of Agriculture and Energy are working to develop a plan to safely allow some development of canola or other biodiesel feedstocks, if possible, but challanges remain.

    But once again, bravo to Portland for this policy!

    [A tip 'o the hat to Green Car Congress]

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