Friday, February 20, 2009

Blaine school buses go to biodiesel

Entire yellow fleet now switched to biodiesel fuel


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County School District bus driver Shirley Tharp fills up a bus from the biodiesel pumps in Hailey. The Blaine County School District has switched its buses over to the more environmentally-friendly fuel. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Blaine County School District has been shifting its buses to biodiesel over the past 10 years, and now the entire fleet of 27 yellow buses is running on the more environmentally friendly fuel.

Biodiesel is typically more expensive than diesel fuel, but the school district expects in the future to offset the additional cost by installing its own 12,000-gallon storage tank and making bulk purchases of the fuel.

Biodiesel is derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. While some vehicles can run on pure biodiesel, designated B100, it is more commonly mixed with regular diesel with the number following the B in the designation as the percentage of the mixture that is biodiesel. Thus B5 is 5 percent biodiesel, while B20 is 20 percent biodiesel.

The school district is currently using B5, but is finalizing plans to move to B20. The problem today is that B20 is not available in the Wood River Valley.

The National Biodiesel Board states that the fuel "has a less harmful impact on human health than petroleum diesel fuel." The board claims that fewer cancer-causing compounds are released, that particulate pollution is reduced by 47 percent and that carbon monoxide is reduced by 48 percent.

Mike Chatterton, the school district's business manager, said the fuel produces "less odor, emissions, smoke and fumes."

"There's all sorts of things that are better about it," Chatterton said.

Switching the bus fleet to biodiesel is a goal outlined in the district's Strategic Plan. In addition, the district has a long-standing commitment for biodiesel that it made to the city of Hailey, where the district's buses are parked and where they get their fuel.

The buses currently fill up with biodiesel at pumps behind the Hailey Chevron station. The pumps are leased to United Oil, which has a contract to provide fuel for the school district.

A bid submitted by United Oil last August shows that B5 biodiesel at that time cost about 7 cents more per gallon that regular diesel, while B20 was about 28 cents higher. The company, however, stated that B20 is currently not available in the valley.

But the school district is looking at a way to solve that problem. Plans are in the works to install a 12,000-gallon tank at the district's bus garage near the old high school on Fox Acres Road.

Chatterton explained that the tank would be "self-contained, fully encased in concrete so there is no risk of spillage." Furthermore, he said the tank would be "strategically placed in an area where it would be non-visible."

Chatterton said the district uses about 40,000 gallons of fuel a year for its yellow bus fleet, so the tank would need to be filled about four times a year. The plan is to fill it with B20. Bulk purchases of the fuel would help offset the higher costs.

There are other cost savings and benefits of the plan, Chatterton said. He estimated that the district will save about $10,000 in wages because bus drivers won't have to drive as far to fuel. Plus, having a tank at the bus garage will eliminate 1,455 trips through Hailey per year, which will reduce both pollution and traffic congestion.

"We can save quite a bit of cost and eliminate traffic," Chatterton said.

More information on biodiesel is available at the National Biodiesel Board's Web site at www.biodiesel.org.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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