Ohio State University commits to use soy biodiesel in campus buses

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SALEM, Ohio – Ohio State students will learn about one use of soybeans this academic year without ever setting foot in a field or enrolling in a course with agricultural ties.

When autumn quarter classes started this week, seven of the university’s 34 Campus Area Bus Service transit buses were filled with B20, a mixture of 20 percent soybean oil and 80 percent diesel fuel.

The buses, the first to use alternative fuels on the school’s main campus, are part of a year-long pilot program to incorporate soy biodiesel into university transportation.

University president Karen Holbrook announced the initiative during last week’s Farm Science Review.

Starts this week. Two other university service departments have also agreed to pilot the B20 fuel in their trucks and equipment.

Soy biodiesel is a cleaner-burning alternative to traditional petroleum diesel. The B20 blend won’t require engine modifications to diesel engines and doesn’t require special high pressure equipment for fueling.

Ohio State is the largest university using biodiesel, keeping it one step ahead of its rival, the University of Michigan.

According to Robert Summerfield, operations coordinator for the university’s Transportation and Parking Services, studies of Michigan’s successful use of the fuel in cold weather are a good indication Ohio State will get along fine with the new fuel.

Why use it? The use of the fuel on campus will facilitate learning and research opportunities in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and the Center for Automotive Research.

The initiative also supports Ohio farmers by using Ohio-grown soybeans.

“Soybeans are an important crop in Ohio and to have OSU involved in a project that just adds value to soybeans is very exciting,” said Bobby Moser, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“It’s an environmentally-friendly product that’s going to help Ohio farmers and processors.”

Susie Turner, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council, predicts demand for soybeans and soy biodiesel will jump in Ohio and across the nation after the year-long pilot program.

Turner also said she expects Ohio State to promote the fuel’s benefits to other universities and commercial fleets across the country.

“The more soy biodiesel is used with high profile organizations like OSU, the more valuable the crop becomes for the farmer,” Turner said.

Cost increase. Robert Summerfield said the university will buy the fuel on a state contract at a minimal increase in cost over petroleum-based diesel, around a nickel to a dime more per gallon.

However, the university is looking into ways to lessen the cost differential between regular diesel and soy biodiesel, including grants and other incentives.

Summerfield doesn’t foresee a switch to a higher percentage soybean blend, but he does predict good results from this year’s pilot project.

That, he said, would probably lead to a complete switch of the university’s buses in coming years.

Environmental impact. “We run in a tight atmosphere here, between buildings. The real benefit of this soy biodiesel is in reducing emissions and particulate reduction. It will really help all that black smoke on campus,” Summerfield said.

According to the U.S. EPA, a 20 percent blend of biodiesel reduces carbon monoxide by 12 percent, hydrocarbons by 20 percent and particulates by 12 percent when compared to petroleum-based diesel.

Transportation and Parking Services estimates that CABS buses will use 42,000 gallons of B20 during the pilot project.

Awareness. Since the campus buses provides more than 4 million rides annually, Transportation and Parking officials believe using the “Buckeye Clean Air Bus” will increase awareness of students, staff, and faculty to domestically produced fossil fuel alternatives.

Using the fuel isn’t just lip service.

“We really think students are very aware of [the need for alternatives]. There have been articles [in the student newspaper] about black smoke, and they know we run in a tight environment,” Summerfield said.

“Students here are very much aware and vocal of environmental concerns.”

If students and staff don’t recognize the cleaner-burning fuel as they travel throughout campus early in the quarter, they may get another look when the Buckeye Clean Air Bus pushes its way through the homecoming parade as a pseudo-float.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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