Letters to the Editor

    Biodiesel Could Lower Petroleum Dependence

    Dear Editor,

    In response to the Jan. 8 Guardian article, “”The Return of the Prodigal Product,”” and the Jan. 25 article “”UC Advances Campus Green Initiatives,”” we wanted to share more information regarding biodiesel and its use on campus. As mentioned in the Jan. 8 article, the campus shuttles are running on 20 percent biodiesel (B20) and there are plans for a 100 percent biodiesel (B100) feasibility study. With support from Assistant Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews and Fleet Manager Jim Ruby, we are leading this feasibility project. As part of this study, one of the buses serving the Hillcrest Medical shuttle route will use B100 for a year. We are calling this B100 shuttle the “”Greenline.””

    Biodiesel is a renewable diesel fuel made from vegetable oil, algae oil, animal fat or waste grease. Since it is renewable, biodiesel can reduce dependence on petroleum and has support from farmers and politicians for its potential to revitalize rural areas. Compared to diesel, biodiesel emissions are reduced except for nitrous oxides. Additionally, when looking at the whole life-cycle of biodiesel, the total net emissions of carbon dioxide are reduced by 78 percent. In encouraging the university to be carbon-neutral, biodiesel can play a significant role.

    In August 2004, more than two years before it was mandated, UCSD Fleet Services started voluntarily using Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. In November 2005, 5 percent biodiesel was introduced, followed by 10 percent in February 2006, 15 percent in March 2006, and finally 20 percent in April 2006. By switching to biodiesel, UCSD Fleet Services has pumped 32,000 gallons of renewable fuel.

    Although using biodiesel in current diesel vehicles may slightly increase the maintenance costs, Ruby has reported no major problems with biodiesel thus far. However, the major hurdle with switching to B100 is that engine manufacturers void the warranty of engines with biodiesel blends higher than B20. To alleviate this we are trying to get an engine donated with an extended warranty for the Greenline.

    We also have funding from the Chancellor’s Interdisciplinary Collaboratories Fellowships to evaluate the economic, environmental and health impacts of using B100 compared to biodiesel blends in UCSD shuttles. The faculty and graduate students working on this research project are from four departments: economics, chemistry and biochemistry, pharmacology and mechanical and aerospace engineering. The results from this study will be applicable to other bus and truck fleets as a guide for future decisions. The project further exemplifies the reputation UCSD and the UC system have developed for leadership in environmental sustainability.

    We are also members of Biofuels Awareness and Action Network (biodiesel.ucsd.edu), a student-run group. In conjunction with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers student group, we are working on designing and building a small-scale biodiesel processor to use some of UCSD’s waste oil.

    – Melanie Zauscher, Meagan Moore, Tess Scharlemann

    Graduate Students Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering; Chemistry & Biochemistry; Economics

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