District plans to boost biodiesel use in bus fleet

URBANA – Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses now run on a gasoline blend that includes 5 percent soy-based biodiesel.

But officials there hope to increase the blend soon to 20 percent.

"We'll start seeing the benefits when we increase the level to 20 percent, said MTD maintenance director David Moore at an event Monday to talk about plans to expand use of the fuel made from a crop produced by farmers, not imported from the Middle East.

"Right now, engine warranties won't allow you to mix more than 5 percent," Moore said. "But that's going to change to 20 percent, probably within months, and when the engine companies give us the go-ahead, we're going to look at it."

He said he finds less particulate matter in engines running on biodiesel.

Moore said all of MTD's 94 buses currently use the 2 percent blend, using about 38,000 gallons a year.

Right now, Moore said, biodiesel costs more than regular diesel although the state, which requires everyone receiving state funds to use at least a 2 percent blend, makes up the difference.

"But when more refineries come on line, that cost will come down," he said.

Scott Bidner, president of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said Champaign County has a long history of experimenting with biological fuels and accepting new ideas. That history goes back to the 1970s when Sidney farmer Fred Werts modified vehicles to run on ethanol and subsequently became a nationwide promoter of that fuel alcohol made from corn.

"Biodiesel is made from a renewable resource, it's less toxic than salt and it degrades faster than sugar," said Bidner, who used biodiesel in his farm equipment.

"We've been using it for about eight months," said Ed Condon, cold drink account manager for Central States Coca-Cola Bottling Company. "Cleanliness is our biggest reason. We're running 25 vehicles, we're watching it, and we're satisfied with the performance. Plus we're supporting local business."

Bill Volk, managing director of MTD, said he earlier rejected another biofuel, ethanol, as a candidate to fuel the fleet.

"It's very combustible," Volk said. "Diesel's not. We look at that from a safety standpoint."

Al Anderson, chairman of the MTD board, said biodiesel fits in the diverse Champaign-Urbana community.

"It's in the best interests of both our urban and our rural residents," Anderson said.

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