Vegetables Power Buses

By Pamela bond

North Texas Daily

Feb. 7, 2006

Vegetables, instead of gasoline, may soon fuel NT’s etrans bus system. The Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA), which runs etrans, will start experimenting with biodiesel fuel in their buses sometime this spring.

Biodiesel, an alternate fuel source to petroleum recognized by the EPA, is a nontoxic fuel made from vegetable oil. It greatly reduces emissions which contribute to air pollution. In fact, if used on a life cycle basis, biodiesel has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide by 78 percent compared to petroleum diesel, according to EPA reports.

Biodiesel is becoming a common alternative to fossil fuels, due to its lower cost and environmentally safer emissions. The biodiesel plant of Denton, the first public/private plant of its kind in the US, currently supplies fuel to the City of Denton’s trucks and school buses, and will be used in DCTA’s experiment.

“The city partnered with Biodiesel Industries a year ago last winter,” said Gene Holloway, director of transportation and planning for Denton Independent School District (DISD). “They put in place a processing plant on the landfill, and in an April-May time period, biodiesel was fueling the city’s trucks.”

The biodiesel plant is owned by the Biodiesel Industries of Greater Dallas/ Fort Worth. Located on the same site as Denton’s landfill, it uses biogases produced naturally by the landfill, such as methane, to power all heat and electricity in the plant. This innovation is the first of its kind, and Denton’s biodiesel plant received national news coverage because of it.

The type of fuel produced by this plant is called B20, meaning it’s a blend of 80 percent petroleum and 20 percent biodiesel. By using this fuel in their trucks, the City of Denton will reduce air-polluting emissions by up to 12 tons per year, according to the city’s biodiesel facility webpage,

In February 2005, the Clean Air Task Force released the results to its nation-wide study, which ranked Dallas as the 14th worst city for diesel emissions and theorized that diesel pollution is responsible for 879 deaths in Texas each year.

DCTA’s board of directors became interested in the fuel source after becoming aware of its environmental and cost-cutting benefits.

“It is an option but we haven’t made a final choice on whether or not to implement it,” said Scott Neeley, director of program development for DTCA. “We’ll start running one or two regular service buses on biodiesel and see how they run, whether they get better gas mileage or if it will require extra service or maintenance.”

DCTA hopes to start the experiment, using ultra low sulfur biodiesel, by March. If the operating results prove promising and the fuel does not conflict with the bus’s warranty, DCTA will start using biodiesel in more test buses.

“It [biodiesel] seems to be working pretty well in the city’s trucks, from what I can tell,” said Joe Richmond, associate director of NT’s transportation services. “I haven’t heard anything bad about it. But we’ll have to see what the DCTA has to say about it.”

DISD has already experimented with biodiesel fuel and will start using it in school buses this month.

“From last fall to the present we investigated implementing biodiesel as a cost-cutting and an environmental measure,” Holloway said. “We were very satisfied with the results, and the fuel satisfied the requirements of the warranty. We’re looking forward to implementing it into our fleet.”

Of DISD’s 144 buses, 36 will run on biodiesel and another 70 will run on propane. The rest will run on unleaded gasoline.

“We’re practicing what we teach about environmental concerns,” Holloway said. “From 1995 to 1996, we initiated and embrace alternate fuels by switching over half out fleet to propane.”

If DCTA’s experiment yields the same results as DISD’s did, more of Denton’s buses, including etrans, could start running on biodiesel fuel.

“We’ll start out with a demonstration, running one or two buses under different operating conditions,” Neeley said. “It could prove to be both cheaper and environmentally safer. We won’t know until results start coming in if there are other benefits.”

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