Denver Public Schools has decided to run its entire fleet of 400 school buses on biodiesel, becoming one of the largest school fleets in the nation to switch to the renewable fuel.
The move by DPS also gives a major boost to Fort Collins-based Blue Sun Biodiesel, which will supply the fuel. The company has been trying to expand its nascent market in Colorado.
"This was a personal goal of mine, to get DPS to switch to biodiesel," said Jeff -Probst, Blue Sun's president and CEO. "I have two daughters who ride DPS buses, and one of them has a friend who rides 45 minutes each way and gets nauseous from (inhaling) diesel fumes.
"Now, every kid who rides in a DPS bus will benefit from the lower emissions of biodiesel."
DPS is among a growing number of customers opting to use biodiesel to run their vehicles.
To keep pace with this demand, Blue Sun plans to add a dozen fueling pumps in gas stations this fall to its existing 15 - and forecasts a total of 35 pumps in Colorado by the end of 2005.
Fort Lupton-based Gray Oil Inc. is the wholesale distributor of Blue Sun's B20 fuel in the Denver area and is responsible for maintaining the fuel's quality specifications.
A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories in Golden has found that B20 biodiesel produces lower emissions of four major air pollutants in the Rocky Mountain region.
B20 is a mix of 20 percent processed soybean oil or canola oil with 80 percent diesel and additives. The blended product can be used in diesel-run cars and trucks without any engine modification.
The NREL study found nitrogen oxide in B20 was 5 percent lower compared with conventional diesel. Nitrogen oxide is a major source of ground-level ozone smog, an irritant often cited as a cause of chest pain, asthma and breathing difficulties.
The study also indicated that B20 reduced carbon monoxide by 32 percent, hydrocarbons by 40 percent and particulate matter by 24 percent, compared with diesel.
Although a recent study by researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley said it takes 27 percent more energy to make biodiesel, other studies report it takes less energy to convert soybeans to biodiesel.
"We switched to biodiesel because we wanted to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Guy Champlin, executive director of DPS' transportation and support services. "Also, biodiesel has lower environmental impact and offers protection to children."
Although biodiesel costs 15 cents to 20 cents more per gallon than conventional diesel, a federal tax credit to biodiesel producers this year has reduced the price difference to less than 5 cents.
Champlin said DPS received state and federal grants to cover the cost difference.
The Rocky Mountain region consumes 3 billion gallons of diesel annually, and cornering just 10 percent of that market would provide a huge opportunity for Blue Sun, Probst has said.
To bolster its presence in Colorado, Blue Sun is on track to build a $4.5 million refinery in Monte Vista. Probst said since Blue Sun is planning to buy the site instead of lease it, the project cost has gone up by $1 million.
Probst said the company is closing the financial agreements this week and plans to start construction soon.
The 15-acre site in Monte Vista originally was used to store and process potatoes, but the buildings have been lying unused in recent years. The site is linked to the Alamosa fuel terminal by a railroad, which would be used to carry the biodiesel concentrate - 3 million gallons a year - from the plant to the terminal. At the terminal, the concentrate would be mixed with diesel to produce the B20 blend.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $500,000 grant to Blue Sun toward construction of the refinery.
Colorado farmers contribute more than 20 percent of the canola and soybean crops used to produce B20 in the state. The rest comes from the Midwest. Probst said he hopes that Colorado farmers will become the sole contributors in three years.
What is B20 biodiesel? A blend of 20 percent processed soybean or canola oil and 80 percent conventional diesel and additives.
Who can use it? Anyone who has a diesel-run vehicle, such as a truck, car or van, can use it without any engine modification.
How much does it cost? B20 typically costs 15 cents to 20 cents more per gallon than conventional diesel, but that differential has narrowed to less than 5 cents in recent months.
Where can you get it? Twenty-five gas stations in metro Denver, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Golden, Steamboat Springs, Fort Collins and Grand Junction, among others, sell B20 biodiesel. There will be 10 more by the end of the year.
Why did DPS switch to biodiesel? DPS decided to run its 400 school buses on B20 biodiesel because the fuel emits less pollutants and greenhouse gases that are harmful for human beings, especially young children.
chakrabartyg@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2976