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Monday, October 30, 2006

News From My Backyard: TriMet Switches Entire Fleet to B5 Biodiesel Blend

TriMet, Portland, Oregon's metro area mass transit authority, is expanding the use of biodiesel amongst its bus fleet. According to the Oregonian, the transit energy will put a 5 percent biodiesel blend in all 611 of its buses, helping to reduce the area's harmful exhaust emissions.

The first truckloads of the B5 biodiesel blend will be delivered to TriMet on Monday by Carson Oil Co, the Oregonian reports.

"I think it's a huge step forward," said Jeff Rouse, alternative fuels manager for Carson Oil. "This is a pivotal point in TriMet's relationship with alternative fuels."

TriMet's move is just one of several other recent efforts by the City of Portland and TriMet to boost biofuels and tackle the environmental effects of diesel vehicles [see previous posts here, here and here].

TriMet will use an estimated 327,000 gallons of biodiesel a year, more than the state's next three biggest biodiesel users combined, a spokeswoman, Mary Fetsch, told the Oregonian.

Biodiesel is produced from plant oils, used cooking oils and waste animal fats. The B5 fuel will consist of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent petroleum diesel.

A handful of other transit agencies have been more aggressive than TriMet in switching to biodiesel, the Oregonian reports. Buses in St. Louis and Cincinnati burn B20 - a 20 percent blend, and this year, the Central Ohio Transit Authority began using a 90 percent blend in its buses.

The Oregonian reports that TriMet is sticking with B5 for now because the agency's engine manufacturers will only warranty their engines for use with the 5 percent blend. "The industry is moving toward that," Fetch said. "We hope to see an increased level of allowable biodiesel in the next year."

"It will make a difference," to air quality in the Portland area, said Kevin Downing, clean diesel program coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Quality. A 5 percent biodiesel blend cuts particulate emissions by about 1 percent, Downing said. The higher the blend, the more it benefits air quality.

"The real strength in biodiesel is not so much on the air quality side," he said "It is in renewability, the global warming benefits, and the fact that you're not going to the Middle East, you're going to the Midwest."

During the past year, TriMet tested B5 biodiesel in its fleet of LIFT buses that serve people with disabilities and the elderly [see previous post]. Agency officials had concerns about the fuel gelling in cold weather but Fetsch told the Oregonian that the tests showed no problems.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority addresses cold weather concerns by using a 90 percent blend during the warmer months, switching to 50 percent in October, and 20 percent in December.

As required by federal law, TriMet began using ultra-low sulfur diesel this month [see previous post], which cuts the sulfur content by 97 percent.

The transit agency announcement is the latest in a series of recent biodiesel developments rapidly earning Portland a reputation as a major national center for biodiesel consumption. The Portland City Council adopted an ordinance that will require gas stations to sell the 5 percent biodiesel blend next year, and the city's Water Bureau vehicles switched to B99 -- or 99 percent biodiesel blend last month [previous post].

The TriMet contract makes Carson the state's largest biodiesel distributor. "It allows us to continue to invest in growing the industry," Rouse said. TriMet's decision and the city's recent actions help build demand for biodiesel, he said.
Rouse said the city's requirement that gas stations sell biodiesel will send a message to motorists that it's OK to burn the fuel in their cars.

"And it's a matter of civic pride," he said. "All of a sudden you realize you're replacing 5 percent of the fuel you use with a renewable resource, and you're not contributing to foreign oil issues. It's a great American story."

[A hat tip to the Oregonian and Green Car Congress]

1 comment:

Jesse Jenkins said...

Lotta news from my backyard today...