About fifty school bus technicians from all over West Virginia attended a two-hour workshop on biodiesel that was specifically tailored to its use in school buses. The benefits of using biodiesel were highlighted, including reduced emissions, higher lubricity, and higher cetane number. Challenges of using biodiesel in a school bus fleet were also discussed, including a higher cloud point during the winter and the “cleaning effect” of biodiesel. The “cleaning effect” occurs when a vehicle that has always run on petroleum diesel is switched to a biodiesel blend, which releases the gum and varnishes on the inside of the fuel tank and clogs the fuel filter. Because of this, fuel filters must be changed more often during the first few months after switching to biodiesel. It was recommended that fleets wishing to use biodiesel start with B5 and gradually work up to B20 to slow the cleaning effect.
The main emphasis of the presentation was to use only high-quality fuel. All biodiesel should meet the specifications of ASTM D 6571 before it is blended with petroleum diesel and come from a BQ-9000 certified producer. Although most of the school bus fleets in West Virginia that are using biodiesel have been very happy with the results, some have had shipments of biodiesel that were improperly processed or improperly blended with the petroleum diesel. It was recommended that fuel be regularly tested to ensure its quality.
The technicians were shown a live demonstration of biodiesel being produced in a 30-gallon reactor. This helped to explain the production process and how improper techniques could lead to poor-quality fuel. Also on display was a diesel-electric hybrid Chevrolet Equinox, running on B20 biodiesel, that was created as West Virginia University’s entry into ChallengeX, a nationwide competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors. This type of diesel-electric hybrid technology significantly improves fuel economy and may someday be found on school buses.
Rick Sanders, a technician for Monongalia County Schools (the first district to use biodiesel in West Virginia), shared some of his experiences with biodiesel and helped answer questions during the question-and-answer session.
West Virginia promotes the use of biodiesel in school bus fleets by providing school districts that use an alternative fuel with a 10-percent increase in the reimbursement rate for transportation costs. This increase is more than enough to cover any difference in price between biodiesel and petroleum diesel. In Monongalia County, for example, the extra money has allowed for the purchasing of new shop equipment that would have otherwise not been possible.
The NAFTC also showcased its more than twenty courses and workshops available at the conference, which was held at Lakeview Resort in Morgantown, West Virginia.