Sunday, July 09, 2000

Greasy test planned for buses

Metro, TANK will use vegetable-based fuel to curb pollution

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        By month's end, 155 Metro buses and 133 TANK buses will be running on fuel made partly from used french fry grease.

        It won't save money and it will smell like french fries when the buses drive by. But the result could be reduced air pollution caused by diesel exhaust.

        It's all part of an alternative fuels experiment funded by a federal grant obtained through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. A contract to supply the “biodiesel” fuel was awarded last week to Griffin Industries, based in Northern Kentucky, which will collect used oil from local fast-food restaurants.

        The program is expected to begin by the end of July, said Sallie Hilvers, Metro spokeswoman.

        The experiment will involve about half of Metro's bus fleet and all of TANK's buses. The money will pay for about a month's worth of fuel.

        The new test is similar to a soy-based diesel fuel experiment Metro ran with six buses in 1993 and 1994. But instead of refining the fuel from raw soybeans, the new test involves fuel refined from used vegetable oil.

        “The soy diesel was wonderful,” Ms. Hilvers said.

        The fuel required no engine modifications, produced about the same amount of power and cut particulate emissions by about 70 percent, Ms. Hilvers said. The used vegetable oil is a different, less expensive product, but Metro is hoping for similar results.

        Although prices have dropped for vegetable oil fuel in recent years, the fuel is still about three times more costly than what Metro pays for diesel fuel.

        But the plan is to mix the vegetable oil with regular diesel. That will limit the pollution cutting ability of the fuel but also will be much cheaper than straight vegetable oil fuel.

        Whether the bus fleets make a permanent commitment to vegetable oil fuel depends on studies after the test — and on whether funding for the increased fuel costs can be obtained, Ms. Hilvers said.

        Biodiesel is used fairly widely in Europe and Japan and has been touted for years by farm lobbies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible alternative fuel for America.

        In fact, backyard chemists can make their own vegetable fuel by checking out various recipes on the Internet. In 1994, a “Lard Car” run by a San Francisco-based group made a cross-country trip using oil collected from Burger King franchises.


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