High-fat diet: Valley tries out biodiesel fuel
Fats or vegetable oils may not better a person’s health, but valley companies and residents are discovering it can do wonders for their vehicles.”Biodiesel has gone crazy,” said Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for Aspen Skiing Co. Since 2003, the company has used biodiesel, a fuel made from refined vegetable fats or oils, to power its fleet of Sno-Cats on Buttermilk and Aspen mountains. After a four-year test period, the company made the full switch to biodiesel in their Sno-Cats last year.Throughout the valley, residents and organizations have started using biodiesel, often mixed with petroleum as a blend called B-20, in their vehicles. Many have decided the benefits of biodiesel – less pollution, higher vehicle performance and no dependence on foreign sources – outweighs the impact to their wallets. The regional interest in this form of renewable energy mirrors a national trend in biodiesel growth. In 1999, 500,000 gallons of biodiesel, a substance less toxic than table salt, was sold in the United States. In 2003, approximately 25 million gallons fueled U.S. vehicles, according to the National Biodiesel Board. “It’s great to have an alternative. This is really a practical alternative and symbolic alternative for many others,” said Johnny Weiss, executive director of Solar Energy International, a Carbondale-based organization that holds workshops on renewable energy. “To have some other option than fossil fuels, politically, socially and environmentally, it’s a nice thing to have.”The German inventor Rudolph Diesel originally developed the diesel engine to run on peanut oil, which he demonstrated for the first time at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. But the use of peanut oil didn’t last, and instead people became infatuated with fossil fuels, Weiss said.Today, biodiesel can power any diesel vehicle, and in the majority of cases with no modifications to the car or truck. In some cases, fuel hoses and pump seals containing elastomers may need replacement or alteration. Also, because biodiesel can gel in colder temperatures, using anti-gel additives can eliminate performance problems in wintry weather. In general, the higher the percentage of biodiesel, the more modifications are necessary.Cheryl Loggins, co-owner of the Catherine Store gas station in Carbondale, replaced her four diesel pumps with B-20 – 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel – in February. Since then, her diesel business has remained profitable, Loggins said.”We’ve had a great response,” said Loggins, who bought the historic gas station and liquor store on Highway 82 with her sister, Rhonda Black, in 2003. “It makes us feel good that people are trying to help what we’re doing to help the environment.”Loggins heard about biodiesel during a presentation by Solar Energy International at a local Rotary Club meeting and began talking with her husband, Marc Loggins, about the possibility of obtaining the fuel from Blue Sun, a biodiesel supplier in Colorado. The word got out that the Catherine Store may be supplying the fuel alternative, and Loggins said she was inundated with calls and visits from residents inquiring about when the blend would be available.”By the time we actually received the first shipment we had so many people coming in and asking about it, we felt there was definitely a market for it,” she said.
Possibly the main reason the community embraced biodiesel is environmental, Loggins said.”People here are just so environmentally friendly. They ski, bike, hike – they want the air to be clean because they spend so much time outside,” Loggins said. “They support anybody’s actions for a cleaner environment.”And biodiesel does cut down on emissions as compared to diesel. Using a B-20 blend reduces by 12 percent both particulate matter, which creates brown clouds, and carbon monoxide, a component of acid rain, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Biodiesel also reduces sulfur, sulfates and pollutants that cause ozone, or smog. A decrease in emissions would also help in the valley, where stagnant pollution often gathers.”The environmental reasons are compelling – in a small box canyon valley, air quality is a big issue,” Schendler said.Although the biodiesel sold at Catherine Store is a blend, some store customers assert even 20 percent biodiesel in their engines improves the overall performance of their vehicles. For example, the fuel’s higher lubricity causes the engine to operate more smoothly, a fact reinforced by Loggins’ customers, who constantly stop in to tell her and her husband that their engines run better than before.Carbondale resident Jerry Akerill, who owns Akerill Masonry, runs all four of his diesel trucks on the biodiesel blend from Catherine Store. The fuel keeps his engines cleaner and cuts down on the infamous smoke and exhaust of diesel engines, he said.”I used it in one truck to see if it lived up to its reputation, and it worked,” he said.No Name resident and Catherine Store customer Mark Rinehart noticed his Ford truck “doesn’t smell like a bus station” with running a biodiesel blend – in fact, the only odor from biodiesel resembles french fries cooking.Although no evidence exists that biodiesel increases mileage, Rinehart also said he estimated his vehicle’s mileage has improved 20 percent since he started using the blend. Recently, he drove his truck to Moab, Utah, and back, with a camper and a car full of Boy Scouts, on 30 gallons of biodiesel, he said.Because the agricultural sector produces the vegetable oils to make the fuel domestically, Rinehart said biodiesel can support America’s farmers.”If it were more widely available, with the whole energy thing and cost of oil going up, it’s great motivation for farmers to come together,” he said.
Many farmers have supported ethanol, another biological fuel produced from fermented corn.”I think its something we gotta go to,” said Charles Ryden, a New Castle-area rancher, regarding biological fuels. “We can produce all this corn, why not produce some fuel from it? That’s a renewable resource. Whatever we take out of the ground, we can’t get back,” said Ryden, the Garfield County president of the Colorado Farm Bureau of the Bookcliffs Soil Conservation District. Ryden, who owns a ranch on West Elk and leases two others in the area, said there’s been a lot of talk about renewable energy among farmers, particularly in eastern Colorado, where the growing season is longer and more corn can be produced.Although many tout the environmental benefits of the fuel, biodiesel’s ability to decrease dependence on foreign energy sources is most compelling, said Dan Blankenship, CEO of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which provides bus service to Garfield County, Pitkin County and a portion of Eagle County.The transit authority, with the assistance of local groups, has applied for a grant to experiment with running its buses on a blend of the plant-based fuel, said Kenny Osier, director of maintenance for the authority. If approved, the money will go to cover the extra costs of operating a fleet of buses on biodiesel. The cost of biodiesel may be its largest downfall. Although the price fluctuates, B-20 biodiesel blend costs around 30 to 40 cents more per gallon than diesel, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Both Schendler and Blankenship pointed out the higher cost definitely factors in when considering making the switch to biodiesel for their companies.Loggins at Catherine Store said that the environmental commitment of area residents has not deterred them from using the biodiesel blend, despite the elevated price.”They don’t care if it costs a little more, if it’s going to be better for the environment in the long run,” she said.And biodiesel continues to spread throughout the state. Other ski resorts will likely take up biodiesel in the near future, with Arapahoe Basin already following Aspen’s lead, Schendler said. Ten Colorado biodiesel stations supplied by Blue Sun opened in May, including one in Durango. The Roaring Fork Biodiesel Co-op, which makes 100 percent biodiesel, works to make both 100 percent and biodiesel blends more viable for residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. Representatives from the co-op, with Solar Energy International, will hold a workshop on making and using biodiesel at the University of Colorado in Boulder in late July. Colorado can also provide a national model for adopting renewable energy, Rinehart said.”With Colorado being somewhat on the leading edge of environmental issues, and seeing the devastation that the gas industry has brought to western Garfield County, I would think that Colorado could, along with the other farm-producing, corn-producing states, be a real motivator to the rest of the country,” he said.
Contact Christine Dell’Amore: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comWHAT IS BIODIESEL?Biodiesel is produced from vegetable oils and fats, which are domestic, renewable resources. The fuel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. Biodiesel is biodegradable and nontoxic.HOW IS IT MADE?Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification, where glycerin is separated from fat or vegetable oil. The process creates two products: methyl esters, the chemical name for biodiesel, and glycerin, usually sold for use in soaps and other products.Adapted from the National Biodiesel Board Web site.
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