Biodiesel slow to drive the High County |

Biodiesel slow to drive the High County

Julia Connors
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” When Seth Bounds started his car service in Summit County nearly three years ago, he felt a sense of environmental responsibility. So he named the company “Green Limousines” and decided to try his luck running the fleet on biodiesel.

He’s used it ever since.

“It’s how we lead our personal lives,” Bounds said. “It’s how we run our business.”

Bounds’ cars are often in Denver and other areas on the Front Range where biodiesel is readily available, making it easy to fill up. But up here in Summit County, public pumps don’t carry biodiesel.

“It’s really hard for personal drivers to make that jump,” he said. “There are a few people in the area who are interested, but they have to go to pretty extreme measures to get it.”

In conjunction with the High Country Conservation Center, Bounds began rallying service stations in the county to stock biodiesel. So far, his efforts haven’t turned up much good news for county residents and businesses hoping to green up their vehicles.

Biodiesel is a biodegradable, non-toxic form of renewable energy that burns cleaner than regular diesel. In the U.S., most biodiesel is made from soybeans, but it can also be made from other substances, such as canola oil, sunflower oil or used cooking oil from restaurants.

Biodiesel is refined through a process called transesterification, which enables it to run in most regular diesel engines without any modifications.

Biodiesel can be used in its pure form, known as B100, or blended with petroleum diesel and other additives. B20, a standard blend, includes 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

Biodiesel decreases the exhaust emissions of several dangerous pollutants. For example, compared to diesel, pure biodiesel reduces carbon monoxide emissions by about a half and decreases the release of cancer-causing agents by as much as 90 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many of the environmental advantages are also present in blends with lower concentrations of biodiesel.

The challenges of making biodiesel available to the public in this small mountain community are two-fold. One stems from the harsh climate, the other from economics.

Pure biodiesel begins to congeal at a much higher temperature than diesel, said John Jones, transit director for the Summit Stage, which runs its buses on biodiesel. Jones likened the cold weather congealing effect to french fries growing lumpy as they cool.

Petroleum diesel is mixed with additives to keep it thin and flowing in cold weather. But biodiesel producers are still fine-tuning the process and ingredients to ensure cool temperatures don’t preclude the fuel’s use.

“It’s really a technology that’s in its infancy,” Jones said.

Blending biodiesel with petroleum diesel helps bring down the temperature at which the substance congeals and starts to clog the engine. That’s why B20 has been one of the industry’s best sellers.

Additives can also lower the temperature that the congealing effect kicks in, but because the field is so new, industry standards have not yet been developed for the best additives.

Summit Stage vehicles have run mostly on biodiesel for more than a year, thanks to improvements in quality and blending. The county has biodiesel hauled up from the Front Range and stored in underground tanks.

“It’s a cleaner burn ” less black smoke with it,” Jones said of biodiesel. “And it’s 2, 5 or 20 percent of foreign oil you didn’t buy.”

But those benefits come with a price tag. The Summit Stage pays about 14 cents more per gallon for biodiesel than they do for regular diesel.

“We’re trying to do our part, but it’s been a rough road,” Jones said.

Cold-weather concerns aside, some local service stations also worry about whether they could actually haul in a profit selling biodiesel.

“Many retailers don’t have two diesel tanks,” said John Long, co-founder and director of business development for Blue Sun Biodiesel, LLC, based in Fort Collins. “Most retailers aren’t really ready to make that commitment yet without seeing the demand.”

Acorn Petroleum, a distributor of Blue Sun Biodiesel based in Colorado Springs, is one of them. The company considered selling biodiesel at their station in Silverthorn, but the station’s one storage tank capacity limits their ability to carry both diesel and biodiesel.

“Our concern is that we would be alienating anyone who is leery of biodiesel,” said Tom Mousaw, operations manager at Acorn petroleum.

But perhaps the only way to know whether they could sell the same volume in biodiesel as they do in diesel would be to try it, he said, adding, “We haven’t thrown the idea out the window.”

The Catherine Store in Carbondale made the switch from diesel to Blue Sun’s B20 biodiesel more than three years ago.

“It was a decision for our environment,” said Cheryl Loggins, who co-owns the store with her sister.

She was prepared to lose money but thought it would be worth it to help the environment. As it turns out, the store sells about 50 gallons more biodiesel each day than it did diesel, even though the price of biodiesel is about 15 cents more per gallon.

Even the fact that she carries it attracts customers who don’t have cars with diesel engines but want to support the environmental statement, she said. Loggins has never received any complaints about the B20 not functioning smoothly during the winter.

“I would tell people not to think twice about it,” she said. “Just to do it. It’s been a really good experience for us.”

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