City Council to discuss hybrid cars

Columbia officials will also consider using a biodiesel fuel.
Sunday, September 14, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:57 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Columbia officials are considering two steps to save money and reduce the environmental impact of government vehicles: switching to B-20 biodiesel fuel and buying up to three hybrid cars.

Both measures are included in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2004, which is up for final approval by the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

B-20 biodiesel fuel, which consists of 80 percent petroleum diesel and 20 percent biodiesel, is one of the cleanest burning fuels, producing lower emissions of sulfur, carbon dioxide and particulates. It can be used in a standard diesel engine.

The city currently uses a 2 percent biodiesel mix. Eric Evans, superintendent of vehicle fleet operations in the Public Works Department, said B-20 biodiesel would have environmental and economic advantages.

“It reduces pollution and particles that go into the environment,” Evans said, adding that the fuel could reduce vehicle maintenance costs because biodiesel improves lubrication in engines.

The Public Works Operation Center, which fuels around 80 percent of the city’s fleet, uses about 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year. Evans said that although B-20 biodiesel costs about 18 cents more per gallon, the increase could be offset by lower maintenance costs. He said the fuel could be used by engines and pumps already in service.

“People pumping and using the fuel probably would see no difference,” Evans said.

Charles Hatcher, regulatory director for the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City, said biodiesel is a renewable substitute for petroleum diesel. Biodiesel can be created from many types of vegetable oils, animal oils and recycled restaurant oils.

“It allows continued use of diesel engines in a more environmentally friendly way,” Hatcher said. “We are excited to have Columbia join the ranks of other environmentally-friendly fleets.”

He said switching to biodiesel makes use of the nation’s surplus soybean oil, the most common oil used to make biodiesel.

Dale Ludwig, CEO of the Missouri Soybean Association, said increased use of biodiesel will create jobs and help farmers in Missouri.

“We see biodiesel as the largest opportunity we’ve had to increase soybean demand in the last 30 years,” Ludwig said.

The city is also moving toward buying three hybrid cars, which are fueled by small gasoline engines and battery packs that store electrical energy. The cars, which reduce emissions and save on fuel, would be used by the rental-housing inspector and by the utilities service division. Evans said he expects all three to use them to replace older cars in its fleet. As technology develops, he said, larger cars such as police cruisers and pickups might be powered by hybrid engines.

“I’ve driven both types, and the hybrids are very comparable as far as handling and acceleration,” Miles said.

Dan Darnell, building regulations supervisor, said an inspector in his department will switch from a Chevrolet Malibu, which gets 18 miles per gallon, to one of the hybrid Civics, which can get up to 45 mpg.

“We’re very hopeful that these cars will reduce costs,” Darnell said. “We’re using this operation as a test.”

Darnell said that if maintenance costs do not outweigh fuel savings, the department will try to use hybrid cars whenever possible.

Civic hybrids drive almost identically to models with conventional engines and have been gaining popularity in Columbia, said Mike Miller, a sales manager at Albert-Buick Honda. The cars, at a price of around $21,000, cost about $1,500 to $2,000 more initially, but hybrid owners can receive up to $2,000 in tax credit, Miller said.

“We sell every one we get,” he said.

Both Honda and Toyota offer hybrid — the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius — to the general public. Those cars can get between 60 and 70 mpg.

Jill Miller, global warming and energy organizer for the Ozark chapter of the Sierra Club, said the city is taking an important step by purchasing hybrid cars. The cars will save tax dollars, reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, she said.

“Maybe other cities will look to Columbia as a progressive example,” Miller said.

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