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Halifax goes BioDiesel!

xBy Jay Lerue

Have you ever hopped off of a bus and had the displeasure of having a large dark blast of diesel smoke engulf you as it pulls away? It’s no fun. It’s also not good for you! With ever increasing environmental and health concerns, companies using high volumes of refined fuels have had to turn to alternative measures, where fuel consumption is concerned.

These measures have resulted in changes to the impact that regular diesel fuel can have on the environment. Bio-diesel is a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil, or animal fats. Bio-diesel is typically produced by a reaction of a vegetable oil or animal fat with an alcohol such as methanol or ethanol in the presence of a catalyst to yield mono-alkyl esters and glycerin, which is removed.

Brandon, Manitoba Transit Orion. This bus is equipped with a bio-diesel power plant. Hence the “fueled by french fries” side poster. Photo Copyright 2005 Alex Regiec.

One of such companies that have switched to bio-diesel, is Halifax’s own Metro Transit. On Tuesday, October 12 2004, Metro Transit announced that its entire fleet switched to bio-diesel fuel. The bio-diesel product, a blend of a 20% bio-fuel and 80% regular diesel, has been tested in a sample of Metro Transit buses since last winter. The bio-fuel is a by-product of the production of Omega-3 Oil, which refined from fish oil.

In testing completed at other trials throughout North America, it was found that the blending of this product with diesel fuel dramatically reduced particulate matter emissions by almost 18%, carbon dioxide by 16 % and unburned hydro-carbons by 11%. Similar tests have been conducted by HRM’s Fleet Services, in conjunction with Environment Canada Emission Research and Measurement Division.

Coming soon to an HRM bus near you

These tests have only recently been completed and results are still pending. Paul Beauchamp, General Manager Fleet Services, Real Property & Asset Management (RPAMS), said “We are confident of the bio- fuel’s performance and that it will deliver substantial benefits in reduction of tailpipe emissions for the Metro Transit bus fleet”. He added, “There is a cost increase of less than 1% associated with adopting the use of B-20 fuel, and the outcomes will ensure that HRM is closer to its goal of providing a leadership role in reducing practices that contribute to global warming-mainly through greenhouse gas emissions”.

Lori Patterson, public relations spokesperson for Metro Transit, informed me that the whole conversion started as a pilot project, where upon there were 20 buses that were put into the test with bio-diesel. “Metro Transit entered into the bio-diesel conversion as a means of doing the responsible thing for the environment,” she says.

Country star Willie Nelson is a big proponent of bio-diesel.

“Even though our cost for bio-diesel is slightly higher, we announced in October of 2004 that our entire fleet was converting over to bio-diesel,” she adds. One thing that Ms. Patterson pointed out to me was that this was a relatively easy transition, one where the buses did not require much or any upgrading. “The existing fuel tanks on our buses were acceptable for the bio-diesel.

After all, the new fuel is still roughly 80% diesel. The whole transition happened very naturally,” she says. But, Metro Transit was trying alternative fuel sources long before converting to Bio-diesel. “In the past, we’ve tried propane,” says Patterson.

The problem, however, was that it had to be fueled outdoors. The great thing about Bio-diesel is that it can be fueled inside, the same way we did with regular diesel,” she says. Some cynics may argue that a mere 20% reduction or dilution of diesel fuel is hardly worth the bother. But when one considers exactly how many buses Metro Transit has in their fleet, the numbers are sure to quickly add up.

Congratulations to Metro Transit for leading by example!

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