Had someone told City Manager Lorne Kramer five years ago that the city would soon fuel its trucks with vegetable oil, the former chief of police might have thought the person a prime candidate for lock-up.
"My reaction would have been suspect," Kramer said. Not so these days. Since December, the city's diesel-burning trucks have run on a biodiesel blend, a mix of regular fuel and processed vegetable oils such as soybean or canola oil. Kramer joined state Rep. Lola Spradley, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, at the downtown Acorn fueling depot last Thursday to tout the alternative fuel to an audience of regional truck fleet managers.
Biodiesel burns cleaner than standard diesel fuel, producing fewer smog-causing and carcinogenic emissions. Pure biodiesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists partly blame for global warming, by 78 percent. Most biodiesel users in the United States, including the city, use B20 -- a biodiesel blend of 20 percent processed vegetable oils that can be used in most late-model diesel cars and trucks.
Renewable fues also reduces America's dependence on foreign oil, which accounts for 56 percent of U.S. consumption. According to U.S. Department of Energy estimates, that number may rise to 70 percent by 2025. Both George Bush and John Kerry have embraced biodiesel in their presidential campaigns.
"It's an important step for the private sector to make a contribution to environmental stewardship," Kramer said in his pitch to about 40 assembled fleet managers representing organizations ranging from school districts to county governments. Fort Collins-based Blue Sun Biodiesel and Alamosa-based Alta Fuels sponsored the event in a pitch to drum up business. Blue Sun produces biodiesel, and Alta has constructed a high-volume blending facility to supply southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Also, Acorn Petroleum opened the Springs first public biodiesel pump last week, downtown at 529 Sahwatch St. Rep. Spradley, who cut the ribbon on the new pump, used the occasion to stump for Amendment 37 that would, if approved by voters on Nov. 2, mandate at least 3 percent renewable energy usage statewide by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015.
"Renewable energy and alternative energy sources are the strip oil wells of the future," Spradley said, referencing her youth on a wheat farm in northeast Colorado where the strip oil well on her family's land helped pay the bills. "If the farmer in Colorado can grow something that can create fuel," she said, "that money is going to stay in Colorado."
Biodiesel's one drawback is its price -- at least two or three cents more per gallon than regular diesel. But improved engine performance due to biodiesel's higher lubricity and reduced long-term environmental cleanup costs make up for the marginally higher cost, Kramer said.
And, judging by increasing U.S. biodiesel sales, many truck fleets across the country have come to similar conclusions. About 25 million gallons of biodiesel sold in the United States last year compared to only a half million in 1999. But those numbers pale in comparison to America's 20-billion-barrel daily consumption of crude oil.
Still, some local Colorado Springs businesses attending the event pledged their support to make even a small difference. Mike Bristol of Colorado Springs' Bristol Brewing Company said he fuels his Laughing Lab beer trucks that travel around the state with B20 because "if there's something we can do to keep the brown cloud out of the Springs, we're going to do it."
-- Dan Wilcock