University buses to run on biodiesel fuel
By Matt Kelly
Biodiesel, an alternate fuel used in two U.Va. buses this summer, has passed its test.
After conducting a pilot program this past summer, with B20 biodiesel powering two buses, Rebecca White, director of Parking and Transportation, found there was no loss in efficiency nor was there an increase in maintenance. Mileage remained the same, at around 3.5 miles per gallon. As a result, she has begun ordering B20 biodiesel, a blend of 80 percent diesel fuel and 20 percent vegetable oil, for the University’s entire 30-bus fleet.
Parking and Transportation will receive its first delivery of biodiesel around mid-October, White said. Petroleum Marketers Inc., doing business as Whiting Oil Culpeper, will supply the University with B20 for 11.5 cents over an industry market price index, as well as paying the 24.4 cents per gallon federal fuel tax, which White said makes the bid very competitive.
P&T purchases about 7,000 gallons at a time, with deliveries every two or three weeks. White hopes that with a distributor supplying that volume of biodiesel in Charlottesville, some local gas stations will start carrying it.
There are also 18 cars and trucks in P&T’s fleet. White will replace them over the next 12 years with diesel and hybrid vehicles. Other departments within the University will be able to fuel their diesel vehicles with biodiesel at P&T. White also has gotten inquiries from other local governments about using biodiesel.
The advantages to biodiesel, according to White, are “fewer emissions and noxious smells and no loss of efficiency. It also reduces our dependency on petroleum, and it comes from American farms.”
Biodiesel also inspires students. Mark T. Aronson, associate professor of chemical engineering, is running an experiment in two sections of his Introduction to Chemical Engineering class, in which his students convert a gallon of soybean oil into biodiesel fuel. The experiment will be assessed on the basis of the most efficient and economical refining processes.
Aronson selected soybean oil because soybeans are grown in Virginia. He believes promoting biodiesel will ultimately benefit Virginia farmers. He has invited White to speak to his classes about the practical applications of the fuel. He also would like to test the student projects in a University bus.
Biodiesel “does not solve all our problems, but it is a step in the right direction,” Aronson said. “In a small way, it minimizes our dependence on petroleum products. The oil beans are grown in state,” and they allow us to move “from a nonrenewable fuel to a renewable one.”