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Building Green 2004

March 11, 2004

Time for contractors to lighten up — on emissions

  • More in the construction industry turn to biodiesel as availability widens
    The Rafn Co.

    The construction industry in Puget Sound has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the drive to reduce harmful emissions associated with diesel engines.

    Most diesel engines are powered by petroleum-based fuel, but diesel engines were invented to run on vegetable-based fuel — biodiesel. There are economic, social and environmental benefits associated with biodiesel, including that it:

    • Is a renewable, vegetable-based fuel source that can be grown in eastern Washington using “no till,” dryland, organic farming methods;

    • Can also be produced using waste vegetable oils, cooking oils and animal fats;

    • Can be used in virtually any diesel engine with little or no modifications;

    • Produces significantly less air pollution than petroleum diesel;

    • Is biodegradable; does not produce explosive vapors-making it one of the safest fuels to use, handle, and store. Minor spills do not pose soil contamination problems; and

    • Supports a diversified, domestic fuel economy. Efforts are under way to develop regional production facilities.

    Obstacles for biodiesel

    Who is using biodiesel?
    In the past three years, biodiesel use in the Puget Sound region has increased dramatically. The following list represents just a few of the many agencies and businesses that are using biodiesel:
    • Earthwise Excavation of Snohomish uses B100 in its fleet of backhoes, bulldozers, excavators, dump trucks, crawler loaders and wheel loaders.

    • School buses in the Central Valley School District in Eastern Washington and Northshore School District in the Puget Sound are using a B20 mix.

    • The city of Seattle is using a B20 mix in all City Light and Seattle Public Utilities vehicles.

    • Intercity Transit, the public transportation agency in Thurston County, is using B20 in all of its 67 buses.

    • The city of Tacoma is using B20 in its 85-truck garbage fleet.

    • Fort Lewis is using biodiesel in vehicles, backup generators and boilers.

    • Saybr Contractors of Puyallup is using B20 in several of its trucks

    • The Rafn Co. has used B20 and B100 for jobsite earthwork equipment and in diesel heaters.

    For more information and assistance in using biodiesel, contact Linda Graham at the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition at linda.graham@seattle.gov.

    Diesel engines can run on 100 percent biodiesel (called B100) or on a mix of biodiesel and petrodiesel. A standard mix is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petrodiesel (called B20). B100 reduces particulate emissions by 55 percent and toxics by up to 90 percent. A B20 mix reduces particulate emissions by 18 percent and toxics by up to 20 percent.

    Currently, the biggest obstacle to increased biodiesel use in the Puget Sound area is education and distribution.

    Many companies don't know what biodiesel is, how they could use it, or where they can get it. Although distribution options have increased, until there is more demand, many local suppliers are reluctant to start carrying biodiesel.

    The construction industry in the Puget Sound area consumes over 1 million gallons of diesel per month and could establish itself as a leader in the effort to reduce air pollution in our region.

    A B20 mix is an affordable choice that can work within the existing industry infrastructure to become the standard fuel for on-site construction equipment — primarily earthwork equipment, forklifts, temporary building heaters (used during construction), and as a form oil release agent.

    Biodiesel is a “right here, right now” solution to air pollution caused by petroleum diesel exhaust.

    Diesel emissions

    In the late 1800s Rudolph Diesel invented an engine that could run on a variety of fuels — vegetable oils, peanut oil and petroleum oil.

    Due to its low cost, petroleum diesel has traditionally been the primary fuel used in all diesel engines, and public health has suffered as a result of this choice.

    Petroleum diesel exhaust emits “fine particulate matter” that can pass through the nose and throat and into the lungs. This fine particulate matter can cause lung damage, premature death, asthma, bronchitis and possibly cancer. In addition, petroleum diesel exhaust contributes to ozone formation (smog), acid rain and global climate change.

    Soybean oil

    Biodiesel can be produced from a variety of renewable, biodegradable sources, including soybean oil, canola oil, mustard seed oil, animal fats and used cooking oil.

    Currently, most biodiesel is made from soybean oil (a byproduct of soy-based foods) and waste cooking oils. The National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., estimates that these existing feedstocks could supply 3.4 percent of the U.S. diesel market.

    Biodiesel can be used in all diesel engines and is generally available as a B100 mix or a B20 mix.

    For each unit of energy required to produce biodiesel, it yields 3.24 units of energy. Comparatively, petroleum diesel yields only .83 units of energy for each unit expended during production.

    Supply and distribution

    Currently, two suppliers ship biodiesel from the Midwest to a Tacoma distribution center. There are established petroleum distributors in the Seattle-Tacoma area that are already carrying biodiesel.

    Mobile fuelers are ready to supply jobsites, and numerous service stations are selling biodiesel for road use.

    The Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition is working on several fronts to develop in-state production and processing facilities within the next nine to 18 months.

    It is expected that local production will reduce biodiesel prices and make the use of B100 more economically feasible. Currently, B20 is available in the Puget Sound area at the same or slightly higher (.15-.2 cents per gallon premium) price than petroleum diesel.

    Advocates and users

    Many government agencies are actively promoting the use of biodiesel, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, King County, city of Seattle, city of Tacoma, state Department of Ecology, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

    The Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition is an umbrella organization that includes public agencies, private agencies and businesses working to promote the use of alternative fuels. The goal of the coalition is to reduce the region's dependence on petroleum-based fuels to promote air quality, public health, energy security, and economic development.

    With leadership and planning, the Puget Sound construction industry could greatly increase demand for biodiesel, hasten the development of regional production facilities, eliminate cost premiums, reduce air pollution and improve public health. Using biodiesel is an investment in your future quality of life.

    Ann Schuessler is the director of sustainable building practices at The Rafn Co. in Bellevue.

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