Yampah students want school to make the switch to biodiesel | PostIndependent.com
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Yampah students want school to make the switch to biodiesel

Mix together vegetable oil, lye and methanol in the correct proportions and you’ll have a powerful concoction – one that some Yampah Mountain High School students hope could power their school bus. As part of Susy Ellison’s science class, Josh Smith, 16, and some of his classmates are hoping the Mountain Board of Cooperative Educational Services trustees will allow Yampah Mountain High’s lower valley school bus to run on 20 percent biodiesel, or “B20,” slashing its harmful emissions. Smith, who rides the bus every day from Parachute to class in Glenwood Springs, says the school’s bus could be the first in Garfield County to cut its emissions and set the example for other schools that haven’t yet made their buses more environmentally friendly. “We want to start with that one (bus) and convert the world,” Smith said. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, buses that use B20 emit 10 percent less particulate matter, 21 percent fewer hydrocarbons and 11 percent less carbon monoxide than they would if they used regular diesel fuel. Already, 12 Denver-area school districts have converted some or all of their bus fleets to biodiesel, and just last month, Denver Public Schools announced that it converted its entire fleet of 400 diesel buses to B20. Ellison said there are skeptics out there, so her class is making a biodiesel education video to win them over. She said the class hopes to bring the issue before the Mountain BOCES board sometime this winter. She said the class’ strategy is to win over the Mountain BOCES board and then the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board, whose transportation department maintains the Yampah Mountain High bus. “In Denver, when they switched, they just did it,” she said. “No negative effects from running their entire fleet on biodiesel.” “That’s true,” said Guy Champlin, executive director of the Denver Public Schools Transportation Department. B20 has worked “fine” for DPS, he said. DPS initially ran 50 buses on B20, and it worked so well that the district converted the remainder of its diesel fleet last month. Though he said biodiesel is more expensive than regular diesel, EPA grants reduce the cost, and the increased mileage and cleaner air make the change worth it. DPS acting fleet manager Bill Nobles said the switch allowed the buses to stay on the road for an additional 2,000 miles between oil changes because the biodiesel is a better lubricant than regular diesel. Some of his drivers had incorrect preconceived notions about how school buses would act while running on biodiesel, he said. So Nobles played a trick on them: He ran the buses on biodiesel for almost four months before telling his drivers about the switch. Once he put stickers on the buses saying they ran on biodiesel, the drivers started to complain the buses weren’t running very well. But the buses ran well and had no problems at all, even in winter when deep freezes cause some blends of biodiesel to “gel up,” or become too viscous to run in the cold. That’s Re-1 bus technician Ed Godeski’s concern about using biodiesel in Roaring Fork Valley school buses. Though Re-1 has considered using biodiesel, he said he’s afraid buses could “gel up” when it’s 20 below zero outside. Re-1 Transportation Director Larry Estrada said buses in Denver don’t have to endure the extreme cold that Re-1’s buses do.”It’s got to be plumb foolproof,” Godeski said, adding that so far, no biodiesel he has encountered would work in local buses. Though the Yampah Mountain High students might have some high hurdles to overcome before local school districts make the switch to biodiesel, they’re determined to try anyway. “We’re trying to get kids to think about their impact,” Ellison said. “We’re sort of late in coming to the table.”Susan Hakanson, chair of both the Mountain BOCES and Re-1 boards, said she wouldn’t comment on the merits of converting buses to biodiesel, but looks forward to hearing what Ellison’s students have to say. Nobles said the biodiesel switch isn’t about the time between oil changes or the 11 to 14 percent fuel cost savings. “The main reason is cleaner air,” Nobles said. “We have to do it – we need to do it to clean up the exhaust and everything else we’re breathing here in this country. If we don’t start taking care of things now, what will our country be (like) in 20 to 25 years?”Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com


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