Canola fueling future?

Biodiesel expert extols virtues of 'Blue Sun'

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Is it possible that Steamboat Springs' growing fleet of buses and tourist shuttle vans could run on canola oil?

John Long, an executive of Blue Sun Biodiesel will be here Monday to talk about the possibilities. Long's company is based in Fort Collins and is nearing completion of a new biodiesel production facility near Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley. Blue Sun contracts with farmers for canola being grown in nearby fields and converts it into fuel that can be used in any existing diesel engine.

Long is scheduled to speak at 10 a.m. Monday in the Crawford Room at Centennial Hall.

Biodiesel is a renewable source of fuel that is biodegradable.

The company also has a blending terminal in the San Luis Valley, where vegetable oils such as canola are blended with traditional diesel, sometimes in a 20/80 ratio. That process results in a cleaner, more renewable fuel for diesel vehicles, a Blue Sun spokesman said.

City of Steamboat Springs Transit Director George Kraw-zoff said he took a close look at biodiesel at a meeting with his peers from other mountain towns and decided it wasn't right for the SST fleet at this time.

Krawzoff said representatives of Cummins engines, the company that manufactures the diesel engines in Steamboat's buses, said they are not opposed to biodiesel fuel. However, they told him there's a possibility that although biodiesel reduces particulate emissions, it would result in the emission of slightly more of a pollutant called nitric oxides.

Blue Sun counters that pure biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 78 percent, and even a blend of biodiesel and petroleum diesel substantially reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Transit systems in Telluride and Breckenridge are using biodiesel fuels, Krawzoff said.

He estimated it would cost a premium of 15 percent more than his latest quote for traditional diesel of about $1.87 a gallon to purchase biodiesel. At SST, that could translate to between $15,000 and $20,000 annually.

Blue Sun counters that the increase in cost is offset by the fact that biodiesel does a better job of lubricating engine parts and thereby extending engine life.

Another issue for SST is that it operates with a lower ratio of mechanics to buses than many transit systems do. Krawzoff said he's heard that sometimes biodiesel can be introduced to transit fleets without any resulting mechanical problems, and other times there are issues. Krawzoff employs two mechanics and is seeking a third. With such a small number of mechanics, he's reluctant to take on a new fuel that could add to their workload, he said.

Blue Sun reports that fleet managers shifting from traditional diesel to biodiesel initially may need to change fuel filters more frequently. That's because biodiesel is a solvent that cleans diesel deposits out of fuel tanks.

Blue Sun reports that the use of its fuels requires no modification to engines, and there is no evidence of filter clogging at lower-blend levels.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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