FLEET MANAGEMENT/Biodiesel blend helps county protect its air
Alachua County, Fla., is creating an environmentally friendly fleet. Joining the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Miami and Grove City, and Dade and Pinellas counties, Alachua County has begun using biodiesel to fuel its fleet vehicles.
Biodiesel, produced from soybean and other vegetable oils, is an attractive alternative fuel for many fleets because it lowers exhaust emissions and is a renewable energy source. “You can simply grow more soybeans to make more fuel,” says Alachua County Fleet Manager Wendell Chastain.
Biodiesel is biodegradable, and it burns significantly cleaner than petroleum. Additionally, there is ample manufacturing capacity for the fuel. “There are 3 billion gallons of excess vegetable oil on the market that can be utilized to make biodiesel,” says Keith Ciampa, a member of the National Biodiesel Board.
The downside is cost. Pure biodiesel costs about 20 cents more per gallon than petroleum diesel, so, to offset the higher cost, Alachua County buys a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel for its fleet.
The blend costs four cents more per gallon than pure petroleum diesel, but the cost is offset by environmental benefits. A National Biodiesel Board study shows the 80-20 blend reduces unburned hydrocarbons by 30 percent, carbon monoxide by 20 percent and particulate matter by 22 percent. “The 80-20 blend seems to be a fairly economical blend that will still give us lower emissions and cleaner burning fuel,” Chastain says.
Unlike some alternative fuels, biodiesel does not require expensive equipment modifications to storage tanks, vehicles or other infrastructure. “It doesn’t require any special modifications or additional spare parts of any kind,” Chastain says.
That is the main reason Alachua County chose biodiesel over other alternative fuels. Alachua County officials began researching alternative fuels a year before they settled on biodiesel. “We looked at many alternatives including compressed natural gas; propane; E-85, which is an alcohol blend gasoline; and biodiesel,” Chastain says. “The other alternatives would have required expensive modifications in order to merge them into our fleet.”
After the county began using the biodiesel blend in October, Chastain waited two months before informing employees of the change. “I did it to see if there would be any noticeable drivability or mechanical problems with switching over to biodiesel,” he says. “I figured if I passed the word that we were doing it, anyone who has a problem with change might start noticing problems that maybe weren’t there.”
The strategy has paid off, and no problems have surfaced. Alachua County uses the blend in more than 150 pieces of heavy machinery, including trucks, dump trucks, ambulances, bulldozers and large mowing tractors.
Paramedic Grant Bosier and Emergency Medical Technician Lavernus Nashid, who drive together in one of the county’s emergency vehicles, say they just recently were told that biodiesel was being used. “I haven’t noticed a difference,” Bosier says. “It runs pretty smooth.”
Nashid, who recycles at home, says he was happy to see the county pursue ways to help clean up the environment. “I’m glad the county is doing its part to conserve energy and save the planet,” Nashid says.
Other employees also have responded favorably to the use of biodiesel. “We’ve had comments that people think it’s great that we are reducing our fossil fuel use and that we’re reducing our emissions,” Chastain says.
Chastain says employees are even starting to ask about investment opportunities in the biodiesel industry. “They seem to think it’s the wave of the future, and I tend to agree,” he says.
Alachua County plans to use 255,000 gallons of blended biodiesel annually and will continue to use biodiesel as an alternative fuel source as long as it is economically and environmentally feasible. “We’re excited about the possibility of being a leader in helping to preserve the environment through the use of this fuel,” Chastain says.