It’s been said it’s not easy being green. And that’s also true about becoming more environmentally friendly.
A new report by the Department of Transportation Services shows the city’s test of B20 biodiesel resulted in higher operating costs and lower fuel efficiency. B20 is a blended fuel that uses 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.
"Well, it was before my time, but they did look at using biodiesel and seeing the impact that it would have on the fleet and cost," said DTS Director Mike Formby. “Right now, the city's not in a position to express that we're willing to go to B20, but we're willing to look at it and discuss it with the council.”
In 2012, the city launched a pilot project with 20 buses that used B20 biodiesel for 37-and-a-half weeks. The buses were used on normal routes and consumed 122,423 gallons of the renewable fuel. Although biodiesel releases fewer particulates into the air, the added cost could be too much for the cash-strapped city to bear.
According to the report, converting the city’s entire fleet of 519 buses to B20 biodiesel would result in an added annual cost of $2.3 million. That’s enough money to fund 8.3 weekday bus routes for an entire year.
The pilot project also showed that primary and secondary fuel filters in the 20 buses tested required changing at double the normal rate, and 35 percent of the vehicles experienced algae growth in their fuel systems.
Meanwhile, even with a substantial break on state and county taxes, biodiesel cost the city nearly 40 cents more per gallon compared to petroleum diesel, $4.14 to $3.76 respectively. Buses that ran on B20 were also 1.7 percent less fuel efficient.
However, Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, says the city shouldn't turn its back on biodiesel just yet. Mikulina uses 100 percent biodiesel in his VolksWagen, and says if the city were to convert its entire bus fleet to B20 biodiesel, some of that extra cost would go to local companies that produce the fuel.
"You know it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “We're basically substituting a local product instead of spending our money in the Middle East for imported oil."
Mikulina also notes biodiesel is a cleaner burning fuel that releases less particulate matter and is 100 percent renewable. Biodiesel is made completely from agricultural products or cooking oil used to fry foods like malasadas.
“You're not contributing to climate change as you would with a diesel fuel," he said.
Formby said the report on the city’s biodiesel pilot project will now go before the City Council, where members will discuss the merits and drawbacks of the renewable fuel.
“We filed the report and then we'll have that public discussion,” said the Transportation Services director. “We hope the public will come out and weigh in.”