Friday, October 18, 2002

Biodiesel fuel drives school buses

Alternative made of cooking oils, soybeans

By Dave Niinemets
Enquirer contributor

ALEXANDRIA - Would you like fries with that bus ride?

Students in the Campbell County and Kenton County school districts just got a breath of fresh air, courtesy of an alternative, edible and environmentally friendly fuel in their school buses.

Starting this week, the districts began using biodiesel fuel made from vegetable oil, soybeans and cooking oil from restaurants.

Kenton County and Campbell County are two of only four districts to get state funds - $9,000 and $8,000, respectively - to pay for the fuel produced by Griffin Industries in Butler, Ky.

The product is not yet used in Ohio or Indiana, but Griffin Industries officials are in Columbus this week pitching the product at a meeting of school districts. The only areas where the biodiesel fuel has become prominent are in Las Vegas, Nev., and New Jersey.

The other school districts to receive funds for the Griffin biodiesel are Marshall and McLean counties. Murray State University and East Kentucky Power Co-op in Winchester are also receiving money from the same funds.

The fuel can be used exclusively to run buses 100 percent with no petroleum added, but it's expensive. Regular diesel is $1.20 per gallon, biodiesel $1.98 per gallon.

According to Jim Conway, vice president of sales and marketing for Griffin Industries, the biodiesel fuel does not produce the same smell as diesel fuel. He said many believe it smells like popcorn or French fries. He said the type used in school buses is typically still 80 percent diesel fuel but produces a neutral smell.

The cost is offset by money received from the Kentucky Division of Energy through a program administered by the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition. "We are excited to be a part of this innovative project," said Mike Dawson, director of transportation for Campbell County Schools. "This is a program that is beneficial to the students and to our environment."

"They're trying to get some cleaner exhaust and see how the buses perform," said Tom Bach, transportation director for Kenton County Schools.

According to Melissa Howell, KCFC executive director, the program will displace about 45,000 gallons of standard diesel.

"Based on the amount of diesel replacement, 150 pounds of particulate matter, 160 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 200 pounds of hydrocarbons and 1,800 pounds of carbon monoxide will be kept from the air in Kentucky," said Ms. Howell.

The use of biodiesel fuel by school districts is new, Ms. Howell said, but TANK and Metro buses and the Kenton County Public Works department have been using the fuel for several years.

A key benefit to switching to the new fuel is that buses will not have to be modified to use it.

It can be used by a standard diesel engine.

"We are very pleased to be one of the six test entities for this product in Kentucky," said Chris Gramke, communications director for Campbell County Schools. "This is an exciting new product that is environmentally safe and will benefit students and community by reducing pollution."

The grant money is a trial period to see if districts like the fuel. It should last about three months for each district.

Mr. Bach said Kenton County's 132 buses use about 35,000 gallons of fuel per month.

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