Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dirty Bus U

The Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a.k.a. Metro, is donating the last four of its "dirty air" buses to the nonprofit Biodiesel University. These buses generate some of Metro's dirtiest emissions.

The buses will be turned into mobile teaching labs that will run on biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel U, affiliated with the University of Maryland, will take the teaching labs to schools, colleges and events across the region.

Now I think this is a great idea for a couple of reasons - we have a lot of dirty vehicles (not just in DC, all over the world) and we can just chuck them into landfills when we're ready to upgrade to a cleaner bus (or car). It makes sense to convert them and keep on using them. This got me thinking that Metro probably spent a lot of money on newer, cleaner emitting buses and wouldn't it makes sense to convert the buses to biodiesel...and keep on running them for Metro? I don't know a lot about conversion services out there, but I would love to hear about them. I think this could apply well to fleet vehicles too.

And the other reason I like this idea: it really got me thinking. There a lot of website that tell you how to shrink your carbon footprint as an individual, and they often advise activities like buying Energy Star appliances or hybrid cars. Well, we can't all go out and buy new cars or appliances as this would a) create a lot of waste and b) create a huge demand on resources. BUT! What if we could come up with the technology to convert these to more efficient models without having to trade them in altogether? Is anyone working on this???

It is like LEED-EB for cars and appliances! Use what you have and make it more efficient.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Well the greatest asset of running Biodiesel is it doesn't really require a conversion at all, and there are already millions of trucks and cars (well not so many cars in the US as the rest of the world) that are capable of running Biodiesel.

Biodiesel's "problems" are mostly due to the fact that Diesel was SO dirty (hurray for new cleaner 2007 formulations) and that Biodiesel is so much cleaner (100% biodiesel has no sulfur).

The "downside" is that Biodiesel acts as a solvent, and when a vehicle that was running old dirty diesel switches to biodiesel, it begins releasing the built up deposits from the tank and fuel lines which can potentially block fuel delivery and can require one or several fuel filter changes after switching, depending how bad the deposits are. That's not Biodiesel's fault, it's a result of old dirty diesel regulations and formulations, and should be more, not less, incentive to switch. Once the deposits have cleared, vehicles should run better on Biodiesel. In fact, in addition to being cleaner and potentially made from recycled and locally sourced vegetable oil, biodiesel also offers better lubricity and higher centene ratings than petrol diesel.

The only potential "conversion" required to run Biodiesel is that due to it's solvent properties and the formulations of rubber lines used in older vehicles, some may require that fuel lines be replaced, though this generally affects lines that are over a decade old (which in some cases have already been replaced anyway from regular service).

When people talk of conversions it is almost always for running straight vegetable oil.

Interestingly enough, the diesel engine was originally designed to run on peanut oil. Only after oil became so cheap and plentiful did we come to rely on petrol based diesel.


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