14 December 2005

[metro_transit] TriMet Goes Biodiesel – But Just A Little

TriMet is going with the biodiesel. There was much rejoicing.

Well, I was thrilled. When I got into the guts of the press release, though, the achievement didn't seem so major.

Starting this month, TriMet is going to start using a biodiesel fuel called "B5". B5 has come down in price so that it's now economical to use. They're piloting it in 75 buses before using it in the whole fleet – of LIFT buses.

TriMet LIFT is the paratransit program, of course. If it works out in the 75 buses then they'll expand B5 use to the entire fleet – of LIFT buses. There are 210 of those. The press release makes no mention of when (or even if) B5 is to be used in the entire fleet, which would seem to me to make more of a difference.

B5 is rendered from used commercial cooking oils, and is a mixture of petroleum fuel and biodiesel fuel. 95% petroleum to . . . 5% bio.

So, TriMet is using biodiesel . . . plus! The biodiesel is being rendered from local producers (such as Kettle Foods) . . . plus! In a minority fraction of the fleet . . . minus. And only 5% of the fuel is actually biodiesel . . . minus. The release goes on to say that if the biodiesel LIFT bus test is successful they'd evaluate using it in the 611-unit main fleet.

I'd like to see them using more biodiesel and ramping it up a little bit faster. One of our economical problems is dependence on foreign petroleum, and this all seems a bit . . . casual. Maybe I just don't get it. I want to be impressed by this but somehow I just don't feel all that impressed by it.


Judy said...

I felt the same way. But I heard a TriMet representative (sorry, don't remember her name) on the radio yesterday. They have contracted with a company in Salem who will actually produce the biodiesel. That company sources the oil from local restaurants and other companies like Kettle Foods. The biodiesel is then sent to Carson Oil, who mixes it with petroleum diesel and pours it in the buses. TriMet expects to lose some money at first (i.e. the biodiesel will cost more) but believes that, over time, the cost should come down as they support the local industry. The 5% limit isn't based on economics. It's the limit placed by the engine manufacturer over which the engine warranty is voided. TriMet believes that the limit will be raised to 20% next year, and then they will also increase the amount in the mix. The plan is to include the whole fleet, including the large buses, gradually over 2006.

I felt better after hearing all of that.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


Thanks for the extra information. I hope TriMet lives up to what you've heard them say.

I'll admit no small amount of ingorance on the numerous rules and regs they have to follow.

And especially I'm hip to them supporting local businesses. In the meat of a bunch of facts that weren't impressing me much, that was something I could really root for.

Let's hope TriMet completely follows through and this works out.