Alternative diesel use spreads

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Owners of diesel vehicles here could have the chance to purchase an alternative fuel this year.

John Long, an executive of Fort Collins-based Blue Sun Biodiesel, spoke to an audience of 20 people here Monday. His company turns canola seed grown on the Eastern plains and in the San Luis Valley into a fuel that can be mixed with traditional diesel fuel or burned as a standalone. He said it could power buses, heavy equipment and snow groomers among other types of vehicles that use diesel engines.

"Hopefully, we'll have one or two pumps here in Steamboat this year," Long said.

Blue Sun's products currently are being used by the Breckenridge and Telluride ski areas and are being tested by Vail Resorts, Long said. RTD, the largest mass transit entity in the state, also is undertaking a detailed test of Blue Sun's fuel.

Long's audience Monday included Terry Weston of Weston Oil in Steamboat Springs and a representative of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

"We're always looking for ways to incorporate more alternative energy methods on the mountain," Ski Corp. spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said.

City Transit Director George Krawzoff asked Long some tough questions about the desirability of biodiesel based on a meeting of Western Slope transit managers he attended in January. Krawzoff said the meeting raised questions about biodiesel's suitability for use in cold climates, claims about fuel cost savings and the kinds of pollutants it emits.

Long acknowledged the reputation of biodiesel has suffered from a lack of standards dealing with the ways in which alternative fuel is blended with petroleum-based diesel. He said Blue Sun has differentiated itself in the marketplace through its reliance on the "rapeseed" family including canola and mustard. And by its push to develop additives that reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere and address problems experienced with the fuel in cold climates.

The company's most popular product is called B-20, which is a blend that uses 20 percent biodiesel. In colder climates, customers may use a smaller percentage of biodiesel.

Thanks to tax credits associated with a federal jobs bill, Long said companies can purchase biodiesel at a 10-cent premium over the current $2.30 to $2.50 a gallon for diesel fuel at the pump. That compares to a 30- to 40-cent premium just one year ago. Annual fuel costs for a fleet of vehicles should be less for pure petroleum-based diesel based on fuel economy, Long said. There's another payoff in terms of improved engine longevity, he added.

As refineries confront federal demands to greatly reduce sulfur emissions, Long predicted biodiesel, which does not give off sulfur dioxide or carbon dioxide, will become more attractive.

Individual consumers also canburn biodiesel in their diesel automobiles, Long said. He uses his company's products in his VW Jetta.

An irrigated acre of canola can produce 200 gallons of fuel, Long said. And his Jetta gets 50 miles to the gallon.

"I like to say my car gets 10,000 miles per acre," he quipped.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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