County to experiment with bio-diesel fuel
GYPSUM – Gil Gilbert has been doing his homework. We’ll all know how he did on the test in a year or so.Gilbert is the county’s fleet supervisor, which means he’s responsible for keeping the county’s vehicles running and in good condition. Because of his homework, the county in a few weeks will start a one-year experiment with “bio-diesel,” a combination of old-fashioned diesel fuel and vegetable oil.
The experiment will be mostly out of sight. For the next year, county equipment that fuels up at the county landfill and near McCoy will use the blend. Gilbert will keep track of how the equipment runs and what it costs to use the blended fuel. Depending on the numbers, the county may start using more bio-diesel next year.”I’ve talked to people all over the country,” Gilbert said. The biggest worry for people about to switch, Gilbert said, is how the fuel behaves in cold weather.Conventional diesel fuel can turn to a gel at very cold temperatures. Some blends of bio-diesel can gel at higher temperatures than the regular stuff.But Breckenridge has been using bio-diesel in its vehicles for a few years now, although the town uses a blend with only 5 percent vegetable oil in it. That blend works well in the 100 or so diesel-powered vehicles the town uses, said town spokeswoman Kim DiLallo said.The city of Lakewood uses bio-diesel in its vehicles – although that blend is about 20 percent vegetable oil – and it also provides fuel for the Jefferson County School District and other government agencies.”We’ve had no issues,” said Nina Hoffert, Lakewood’s fleet supervisor. “If you’re changing your fuel filters frequently, you’ll be fine.”But Brad Higgins, Eagle County’s Road and Bridge Department Director, said he wants to take a cautious approach.”We’re going to take the safe route,” Higgins said. “I don’t want to have a whole district grounded because of fuel.”
When Lakewood started using bio-diesel four years ago, the stuff cost about 20 percent more than conventional diesel, even with a $1 per gallon federal tax break, Hoffert said. Now, with the price break still in effect and the cost of oil climbing, there isn’t much difference in price between conventional diesel and the fuel mixed with vegetable oil.”I think the last load we got was actually a little cheaper than regular diesel,” Hoffert said.That came as good news to one local business owner who’d like to switch if she could.”I’d be very interested in knowing more about it,” said Jamie Bates, a co-owner of Calco Concrete Pumping in Gypsum. “Not only for the price, but for the environment.”Calco’s trucks run non-stop once they’re started in the morning. Rising fuel prices put a crimp in the company’s bottom line, Bates said.”But the most important thing is the environmental impact,” Bates said. “We have to do something.”
But alternative fuels like bio-diesel have some significant built-in problems. With bio-diesel it’s price and, perhaps, cold-weather performance.With gas blends like the ethanol-based E-85, the problem is a significant drop in gas mileage. Even hybrid cars, which are viewed by many as nearly impact-free, have their drawbacks, including a higher sticker price than conventional cars, as well as the cost of replacing batteries in high-mileage hybrids.Hoffert knows the drawbacks, and believes wholeheartedly in alternative fuels. “But oil is such an incredible resource,” she said. “Any alternative to it runs a distant second.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado
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