Biodiesel remains a feel-good fuel

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— Switching to biodiesel is easy, Breckenridge's former public works director said Thursday, but the economics of such a move are not.

Dan Bell, who now is the manager of Storm Mountain Ranch east of Steamboat Springs, described Breckenridge's biodiesel program during Thursday's Steamboat Springs Chamber Economic Development Council's 2008 Economic Summit. This year's summit is titled "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Transportation and Our Economic Future." Bell shared the stage with Fred Robinson of Intergalactic Hydrogen.

Robinson noted the challenges of switching to biodiesel because of its higher cost compared to regular diesel fuel.

"There's really not much incentive for fleets to do it unless there's a desire for ecomarketing," Robinson said.

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced domestically for use in diesel engines. It is derived from natural oils such as vegetable oil and can blended in varying concentrations with traditional petroleum-based diesel.

Bell said Breckenridge started using biodiesel "out of a desire to do the right thing" that, along with some positive attention, outweighed cost concerns.

"We got a heck of a lot of press," Bell said, "and we milked it for everything it was worth."

Bell said the success of implementing a biodiesel program relied on the way it was presented. Bell tried to convince people to look at the program more like they do parks and recreation than fuel costs.

"We didn't view it as an added cost," Bell said. "We viewed it as the cost of a program."

Bell said the public's acceptance of the switch was almost immediate and that most resistance came from within, especially from mechanics. But Bell said perceptions that biodiesel creates more mechanical problems or performs worse than regular diesel in cold weather are false. He also said the switch did not require any engine conversions or major capital expenditures.

"We were finally able to explain to our mechanics that flat tires and biodiesel weren't really related," Bell said. "We mostly considered our program to be a real big success. It was a little extra work, but it can be done. It's being done in a lot of places. : I think the long and the short of it is if you're willing to put in a little work, it can work on an individual and large scale."

If environmental friendliness and good press aren't reasons enough to make the switch to biodiesel, Bell also said it made Breckenridge's buses stink less. Robinson went as far to say biodiesel smells good, like popcorn chicken or French fries.

"I've always hated the smell of diesel," Robinson said. "When you throw in a biodiesel, it changes. Your mouth waters."

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