Bull Runner takes the lead in green

Every day many USF students ride the Bull Runner to expedite their trip between classes. What commuters may not realize is that their chosen form of transportation is helping reduce their carbon footprint.

Since 2002, USF’s campus-wide bus system, the Bull Runner, has been using biodiesel. Biodiesel is a form of fuel, composed of methyl esters, known to be less costly than standard diesel.

Director of Transportation Services Rick Fallin said the fuel is a nonhazardous, biodegradable and renewable resource. It can be created from anything that has fatty acids, including vegetable oils and animal fat.

“Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil,” according to the Web site of the National Biodiesel Board, the national trade association that represents the U.S. biodiesel industry. “The process leaves behind two products – methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products).”

Even before going green swept the United States, Fallin said he was interested in an alternative fuel.

“I was motivated to find an alternative fuel for economic reasons and environmental reasons,” Fallin said. “I was aware of biodiesel. I thought it would be a worthy thing for the University to try out.”

Fallin was also impressed by biodiesel’s positive impact on the environment.

“I knew it was environmentally friendly,” he said. “I’d seen demonstrations of it and knew that the fumes coming out of it were not as unhealthy as diesel fuel.”

The stability of the biodiesel market versus that of petroleum was another one of Fallin’s major draws to the fuel. In March 2002, the price per barrel of crude oil reached $25, according to WTRG Economics, a company that offers financial analysis and data for energy producers. This week, MSNBC reports the price per barrel is $134.55. The national average price per gallon is $4.771.

Though biofuel has only been on the market for a few years, several university transit systems in Florida are beginning to see the benefits of its use. Florida International University, the University of Florida and the University of Miami are all using the fuel to reduce their transportation emissions. However, Fallin said USF was one of the first schools to use biodiesel on such a wide scale. In November 2002, USF Parking and Transportation Services received a “Green Fleet” award from the Tampa Bay Clean Air Partnership.

David Harris, Jr., general manager of Operation and Finance at Harvard University, brought biofuel to his school in 2004. Harris said he is concerned with the state of the country’s economy, and that biofuel is a step toward fixing the nation’s oil crisis.

“Biofuels are important not only because they’re cleaner burning but also because they can reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Harris said.

Over the years, the Bull Runner has used different blends of biodiesel with differing ratios of the methyl ester compound combined with ultra-low sulphur diesel.

“We’ve used different blend ratios over time to really evaluate its performance,” Fallin said. The different blends are made from soy oil, palm oil, chicken fat and recycled grease trap oil.

With the increasing interest and investment in the development of biofuel technologies, manufacturers, including GM, Chrysler and John Deere, are beginning to look at using biodiesel blends to enhance the performance of their vehicles.

Despite the positive outlook, biofuel has serious obstacles to overcome before it is taken seriously as an alternative fuel source.

“The fuel business is a complicated thing,” said Fallin. “There is no easy solution. There is no possible way that we could tomorrow turn the valve off diesel and turn it onto biodiesel and fuel everything that we fuel today. We don’t have enough farms, we don’t have enough farmers, and we don’t have enough capabilities to produce it.”

For more information on biodiesel, visit the offical site of the National Biodiesel Board at biodiesel.org.