City’s large vehicles get new biofuel

Officials say the increased cost
of biodiesel is offset by its benefits.
Wednesday, December 3, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A new form of biodiesel for use in city vehicles — and the city’s first hybrid car — were unveiled Tuesday morning at a ceremony attended by local, state and national officials who said they hope these purchases become widely used. The new fuel uses 20 percent soybean oil and is commonly called B20. It will be used in the city’s 290 large vehicles and heavy equipment.

Currently, the city uses about 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year in these vehicles, said Lowell Patterson, director of Public Works.

Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., a member of the Senate Energy Committee and co-chair of the Senate Biofuels Caucus, congratulated Columbia on being a leader in the use of biofuels, saying he thinks others will follow the trend of using renewable fuels.

He said he hopes that such an increase will bring pressure to pass the energy bill currently stalled in the Senate.

“It requires vision to see this and look for it,” Talent said. “It simplifies the whole process of protecting the environment. I would love if Washington got the message.”

Columbia has been using a 2 percent soybean oil mixture, known as B2, since May 2002, Mayor Darwin Hindman said. Changing from B2 to B20 is relatively easy, requiring no modifications to existing machinery, Patterson said.

A gallon of B20, supplied by MFA Oil, costs 20 cents more than a gallon of conventional diesel, City Manager Ray Beck said. The increased price will cost the city roughly $80,000 per year.

However, Patterson said he believes the lower environmental impact, increased engine life and lower amount of maintenance outweigh the increased cost.

He also said he expects the price to decrease in the future as the use of B20 becomes more common. The 2003 Energy Bill, if passed, would provide a tax credit for those who use B20.

The first of three hybrid vehicles the city plans to purchase, a Toyota Prius, also was unveiled Tuesday.

The hybrid combines a conventional gasoline engine with an electric motor, providing increased fuel economy and decreased emissions. It will be used by the public works department’s Division of Protective Inspection, which inspects rental properties and new building construction in Columbia.

Patterson said that while the vehicles are “obviously not suitable for all the applications we have,” they make sense for rental inspections.

Senior building inspector Brenda Cannaday will be assigned the vehicle because she consistently keeps her current vehicle clean and well-maintained, according to Dan Darnell, building regulations supervisor for the city.

Protective Inspection’s vehicles are driven about 18,000 miles a year, making the 55 to 60 miles per gallon capable with the hybrid attractive compared to the division’s current vehicle average of about 18 miles per gallon, Darnell said.

“A resource is a resource,” he said. “What we can save in one area allows us to supply better services in other areas.”

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