Going bean in Bowling Green

Vegetarians aren’t the only things being fueled by soy in Bowling Green.

The city’s schools have been running their buses on soy biodiesel since May 2008, when they were awarded a $15,000 grant through the Clean Air for Kids School Bus Grant Program. Since the soy blend costs approximately 20 cents more per gallon than regular diesel, the grant completely covers the difference.

“We look at it as a no-brainer,” said Jamie Butts, the communications director for the Ohio Soybean Council, which awards the grant. “There’s no additional cost to the district for better air quality.”

Bowling Green’s buses are fueled by B20 biodiesel, which is 20 percent soy byproduct and 80 percent petroleum diesel. This ratio is the highest allowed by law and is purported to reduce carbon emissions. With the current conservation craze, this is the program’s main appeal.

According to Dan Davis, the school district’s director of transportation, the switch to soy has been a painless one.

“There have been no complications,” he said. “Even the miles per gallon are the same.”

His only concern is that the biodiesel might gel in colder temperatures, making it harder for the buses’ engines to burn. Hence, the buses run on regular diesel during the winter months. Since the grant money isn’t used in frigid conditions, Davis is now looking at a surplus.

Hugh Caumartin, the district’s superintendent, said Bowling Green was the first city to receive the grant, and that the decision was easy to make.

“A lot of our kids have asthma, and including them, we have 2,700 students riding our buses every day,” he said. “These buses drive about 2,000 miles a day, so it’s definitely worth it.”

The program proved efficient enough that Davis has asked for a grant extension into the next school year. The Ohio Department of Development administers the grant, which is promoted through the Ohio Soybean Council. Davis became aware of the Clean Air for Kids program and applied for it. Since then, 20 other school districts have hopped aboard the biodiesel bandwagon.

But this isn’t the first step Bowling Green’s schools have taken to turn their big yellow buses green.

In 2006 the district received a $125,000 grant to retrofit its buses with new diesel particulate filters which trap the carbon that can normally be seen belching in great black clouds from exhaust pipes.

“The environment, our students’ health and the economy: these are the kind of efforts we have to make to protect these things,” Caumartin said. “With our air quality at stake, it’s better for our kids.”

Biodiesel Breakdown

–Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but can be mixed with regular diesel. –B20 (20 percent soy, 80 percent biodiesel) is the highest ratio legally allowed. –Biodiesel is made through transesterification, where soy is separated –into glycerin and vegetable oil. Said to be biodegradable and less toxic than table salt. –Proponents of biodiesel claim its use decreases the United States’ dependence of foreign oil.

Source: biodiesel.org