Management & Operations

Ohio fleet is soy happy with biodiesel

Posted on October 18, 2006 by Camella Lobo

Since January, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in Columbus has systematically implemented the use of biodiesel fuel, made from Ohio soybeans, into its fleet of 234 buses. The switch to soy fuel, initially prompted by shrinking fuel supply lines during the 2005 hurricanes, is permanent, say COTA officials.

“We are committed [to this],” says Don Makarius, COTA’s director of vehicle maintenance and engineering. He says biodiesel has lowered operating costs, reduced vehicle emissions by more than 40% and, to this point, been seamless.

Clean burning and renewable, biodiesel fuel is manufactured in several different plants across the country. The fuel, which releases very little particulate matter, is created in a process that removes glycerin, a natural lubricant, from vegetable oil.

According to Darryl Brinkmann, chairman of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), even a mere 2% blend of the fuel with ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) would ensure plenty of lubricity in an engine. This is a growing concern with many engine manufacturers, as soy fuel use spreads across the country. However, COTA’s experience with the fuel in a gamut of buses shows that its 90% blend of biodiesel has little to no effect on its vehicles’ mechanics or maintenance.

Because colder temperatures tend to induce fuel gelling and clouding, COTA created a seasonal fuel program. The agency has discovered that simply adjusting the blend at different times during the year enables the vehicles to perform normally in all conditions. Between December and April, the company reduces its blend to 20% and then readjusts the make-up in warmer weather. The regular diesel fuel COTA supplements in its tanks will satisfy ULSD requirements that have been mandated by the EPA.

The agency’s supplier, Ohio-based Peter Cremer North America LP, blends its diesel according to what the NBB refers to as BQ9000 standards. Vehicle performance depends on adhering to strict biodiesel specifications, and alternative fuel producers should be registered with the EPA as certified blenders that meet those requirements to attain certification.

The partnership between Peter Cremer and the agency is beneficial to both organizations, as well as Ohio’s agriculture industry.

“Because all of this feedstock is grown by farmers, either as soybeans, canola or something like that to produce the oil, we’re going to have to gradually grow our ability to increase supply of the feedstock too,” says Brinkmann. As long as Ohio’s numerous soybean crops can keep up with demand, COTA officials see no end in sight to the agency’s reliance on biodiesel.

Peter Cremer continues to infuse Ohio’s economy as more transit authorities, including Cincinnati’s, are putting the supplier to use. The blender allows its customers to lock in a fixed-price contract over a 12-month period, while it obtains the tax credit on its own. This enables energy-based companies to breathe easy despite fluctuations in the fuel market.

Makarius is more than satisfied with the relationship COTA has with its supplier and, according to the company’s 2005 budget comparison, it has saved money. The only time the operation noted a visible increase in fuel consumption was during air conditioning season.

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