Biodiesel fuel in northern Arizona is growing like algae

Council failed to make resolute action for biodiesel, but Flagstaff now offers their experience and cheaper quantity purchasing to make it happen

Federal policy set forth by the Clinton Administration and further implemented by the Bush Administration have required diesel fuel and diesel trucks to begin burning cleaner. The new diesel has removed sulfur, which will cut down on air pollution while the new diesel engines are designed to be more efficient and reduce particulate emissions.

With APS about to begin research on algae biodiesel production at the Cholla Generating Station, which would exponentially increase biofuel quantities, the whole industry of biodiesel could grow to become a significant factor in America's independence from foreign oil. This form of algae production for fuel is also now being considered for tie-ins with wastewater treatment plants under University of New Hampshire research.

Using it for city vehicles like in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff has led to others cities like Winslow and Williams to consider biodiesel as well. Flagstaff has even offered to help its neighbors in acquiring biodiesel at $2.39 a gallon ­ this includes delivery costs from ProPetroleum in Phoenix. Much less than what is thought.

Before the City of Winslow decided to purchase a needed truck for city staff, Council heard from Utility Manager Allen Rosenbaum about biodiesel. Council voted to purchase a diesel truck with the idea that it is a functional vehicle now and would have the capacity to run biodiesel in the future if the City so decided.

"If a diesel vehicle is going to work for you and since they generally last longer and particularly in the future we are going to be required to have high emission standards, and it is certainly going to extend U.S. petroleum reserves, then it makes sense and is why government agencies are using biodiesel wholesale across the county," said Winslow Mayor Allan Affeldt.

Rosenbaum's presentation was thorough about the pros and cons of switching to biodiesel, but Council's response was vacant with the exception of that of the mayor.

City of Flagstaff employees said they understand these concerns and worried about these same things at one time, but since they have gone forward with the biodiesel program, they say they it is great and recommend it to everybody.

Most people like Flagstaff currently use a mix called B20 that is 20 percent vegetable oil (any kind) mixed with 80 percent petroleum diesel. This may reduce carbon dioxide and particulate emission ­ the black soot ­ by over 75 percent; though nitrogen dioxide is slightly increased. Rosenbaum said if the automobile manufacturers installed catalytic converts on diesels like do with gasoline vehicles, then this problem would be fixed.

A big difference between biodiesel and regular diesel is that biodiesel will act as a solvent and clean the engine; whereas, diesel builds up sludge in the engine and tank. Put biodiesel in an older diesel and it will remove the build-up in the tank and engine.

"This will plug-up filters right and left," Rosenbaum said.

"We try to clean our filters regularly, but this isn't much different that what we had been doing before with regular diesel," said Jim Brohamer, utility fleet manager for the city of Flagstaff.

He said he has been studying biosiesel since 2000 and that since 2003, the city of Flagstaff has burned over 600,000 gallons of B20 biodiesel through their fleet vehicles and has had no problems.

Rosenbaum told Council that biodiesel will biodegrade much faster than diesel and highly corrosive if it sits around for too long.

"Higher blends of biodiesel can cause premature failure of all the rubber seals, gaskets, valve covers and fuel hoses," Rosenbaum said. "It eats them up and you have to replace them with polymer, steel or aluminum is you go above B20."

"I would question that," said Brohamer, adding that his department left a truck sitting for 10 months with B20 in it. After restarting it, they only had to empty the tank and change the filters; the seals and gaskets were still good, according to Brohamer.

Rosenbaum told Council that some older diesel trucks experience problems with higher levels of vegetable oil. Brohamer said his experience was that old trucks can handle up to a B40 blend ­ 40 percent bio and 60 percent diesel.

Automobile manufacturers today shy away from endorsing biodiesel and will void your warranty if you use a blend over B5 (five percent), though Dodge has recently released a truck that may burn B20 and retain the warranty.

Flagstaff plans on increasing its biofuel levels to B30 next summer and plan on pushing it as far as they can, especially as more manufactures are forced to adjust their engine designs to meet federal air quality standards, Brohamer said.

Rebecca Sayers, environmental services supervisor for the city of Flagstaff, said that city drivers claim to have noticed an increase in power with biodiesel.

"We are interested in going as high as we can by adding more vegetable oil," she said. "We are also working closely with the National Biodiesel Board and distributors in the state."

Sayers and Brohamer said they would soon be going to the Williams City Council to tell them about the program.

When we put the biodiesel purchase out to bid, we left the contract open so that other neighboring cities can piggyback our contract to share our price and specs, they said.

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