In Snohomish County, Wash., just north of Seattle, efforts to reduce pollution have gone beyond forging and strengthening connections among local agencies and businesses. The county's goal to convert its diesel vehicles to B20 biodiesel by 2010 and B40 by 2014 is pulling local farmers into the action as well.
While the transition has gone smoothly, several factors were threatening the timetable.
About two-thirds of the county's fleet — mostly larger pickup trucks, dump trucks, and off-road equipment — already is running on B20, using 25,000 to 30,000 gallons/month and cutting the county's carbon emissions by 925,000 pounds.
“We did some research before making the change, and found no records of damage claims resulting from the use of biodiesel or any cases where warranty coverage was denied on account of its use,” says Department of Public Works Fleet Manager Allen Mitchell. “Changing to B20 hasn't required any real modification of the equipment, but we've had to adjust maintenance procedures. Bio-diesel fuel has a solvent effect that loosens deposits in the engine that then get trapped in filters, so we have to check and change filters more often.”
But while ASTM standards have been established for B20 and B100 (100%) biodiesel, there aren't any for intermediate grades like B40. Another stumbling block was the available supply of biofuels. To address the latter, the county has embarked on an ambitious program to encourage local production of viable feedstock crops.
A CLOSED-LOOP SYSTEM
In 2005, local farmers approached County Executive Aaron Reardon in hopes of developing markets for locally grown products. As luck would have it, these discussions coincided with the county's search for ways to reduce its use of foreign oil and cut down its petroleum-based diesel emissions.
The county provided initial funding worth about $80,000 to develop trial runs for canola during a two-year period. Within months, local farmers were growing biodiesel seed crops to test their viability. Canola seed produces oil that can be used for a bio-fuel, but canola seed grown in western Washington must be dried to reduce its moisture content before storage or processing. With help from local, state, and federal funding sources, the county also began building infrastructure to process canola and other crops locally.
After the trials proved successful, another $410,000 of county money plus federal appropriations worth $344,400 were made available last year to buy a seed dryer. The dryer was installed at the county's Cathcart Operations Center, adjacent to a closed landfill, so that landfill gas that had been previously just flared off can fuel the dryer. Using landfill gas rather than traditional fuels such as natural gas or propane significantly reduces the cost to dry the seed. It also provides obvious environmental and social benefits.
A seed crusher purchased with $500,000 in state Energy Freedom funds was also installed at the Cathcart site. Crushing extracts the canola oil so it can be processed as biofuel. The resultant seed hulls are being used by Wolfkill Feed and Fertilizer Inc. of Monroe, Wash. — another project stakeholder — to produce cattle feed.
Whole Energy Fuels of Bellingham, Wash., converts the extracted oil to biodiesel before transporting it to a refinery in nearby Anacortes, where it's blended with petrodiesel to B20 specifications. The fuel is then supplied to Pacific Pride “Petrocard” stations where drivers and operators refill their vehicles. The electronic card system allows the county to manage and monitor fuel use.
By spring, about 950 acres in Snohomish County are expected to be planted with canola and other oilseed crops. An estimated 1,000 to 1,200 acres should yield enough B20 biodiesel for the county's entire diesel fleet.
With this program, the county has forged a total system that works to everyone's benefit.
“It reduces emissions and keeps fuel production local without displacing other food crops, as some biofuel projects can,” Mitchell says. “Canola wasn't being grown in the area before, but now farmers can rotate it into their fallow fields and serve a new market.”
LEED FOR FLEETS?
Snohomish County's efforts are in keeping with the Evergreen Fleets Initiative, a voluntary performance standard being developed by the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The agency works to improve air quality in King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties by adopting and enforcing regulations, sponsoring voluntary initiatives, and educating people and businesses about clean-air and climate-friendly choices they can make.
Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition is a voluntary public-private partnership that seeks to advance regional environmental and public health, energy security, and economic development by reducing petroleum use in transportation. Part of a network of 90 communities under the U.S. Energy Department's Clean Cities Program, the coalition provides education, technical assistance, and access to grant funds.
The formal rollout of the Evergreen Fleets Initiative is planned for May. The Evergreen Fleets Manual, still in draft form and evolving, will map out a range of strategies managers can use to improve their operation's environmental performance. Each strategy will include a series of goals that can be used to measure and rate improvement.
According to Kimberley Cline, communication specialist with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the program's initial goal is for fleet managers to establish membership in the initiative. Members would accept its premises, learn how to apply the strategies, and determine their benchmark performance levels.
Eventually, the intention is to develop a certification system along the lines of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system. Fleets would earn points for achieving specific performance goals. The initiative also is drawing on Canada's E3 (Energy, Environment, Excellence) Fleet program.
Evergreen Fleet strategies are divided into four broad areas:
- Policy, communication, and training. Establishing top-level support for a green fleet program, and communicating goals and incentives to fleet employees.
- Vehicle and equipment purchasing. Implementing a “right-size” requirement for vehicle purchases and incorporating green fleet provisions into bid criteria.
- Vehicle, equipment, and fuel use. These strategies cover fuel procurement efforts, ensuring that flex-fuel vehicles are run with green fuels to the greatest extent possible, implementing systems to track fuel consumption and equipment use efficiency, and implementing a diesel retrofit program.
- Vehicle and equipment maintenance. Preventive maintenance, recovery and reuse of maintenance products, and selection of environmentally friendly products for vehicle maintenance.
— Hooker is a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.