Fried fuels power Bull Runner shuttles

Ever smelled a hint of fried foods while driving behind a Bull Runner bus?

There’s a reason for that.

The University has always looked for ways to make the campus environmentally friendly, but for the past five years, Parking and Transportation has been ahead of the game.

Nearly all Bull Runner shuttles are using one of the cleanest alternative fuels available: a diesel fuel made from natural, renewable sources – such as vegetable oils – called biodiesel.

Bull Runner Services manager Rick Fallin said the transition was simple. With the administration supporting the initiative and Fallin confident the alternative fuel supply wouldn’t overextend the budget, Bull Runner made an easy conversion to biodiesel fuel in August 2002. The change required no modifications.

“As the manager of the Bull Runner, I was aware of biodiesel and wanted to try it,” Fallin said. “There is a lot of diesel smoke in the area, especially around the Administration building, and I knew it would have a positive effect on the community as a whole.”

Biodiesel is formed through a refinery process that mixes vegetable or animal fat oil with alcohol to remove the glycerin byproduct. It is the only alternative fuel that fits the health standards stated in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and is recognized as a viable alternative fuel by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the U.S., all fuels must be regulated by the EPA before becoming legal.

Nearly all of the 30 Bull Runner shuttle buses run on a mixture of 50 percent biodiesel and 50 percent diesel.

Fallin said it was challenging at first. All buses were equipped with a 100 percent biodiesel mixture – a move he said was somewhat too aggressive on his part. For the first few years, the buses needed to have their filters changed more than usual because the biodiesel was aggressively cleaning out diesel byproducts. But Fallin said the engines are used to it now and the filter changes are less frequent.

Since then, Fallin has rotated the type of biodiesel several times. The current B50 blend started in July 2006 and is being used to administer a study that compares the maintenance issues faced with B100 and B50 blends.

The benefits of using biodiesel are numerous. It reduces most unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfates and smog from tailpipes. It also creates a quieter engine and gives USF tax breaks. Fallin said they pay a little over $3 a gallon for the gasoline blend.

Fallin said there hasn’t been an exhaustive study done to determine if the biodiesel is more fuel efficient.

The move has put USF at the forefront of nationwide universities who wish to use alternative fuels to power their buses. Fallin said colleges such as Duke, East Carolina, Harvard and Miami have contacted him since he started the program.

“USF has been a leader in this field nationally,” he said.

Even though the move has provided the University with more research possibilities, he said his decision was purely for environmental and economic reasons.

“It supports, encourages and upholds American farmers instead of foreign petroleum markets,” Fallin said.

Eric Smithers can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or oraclesmithers