January / 2004
The Future of Electricity

Fill 'er up with cooking oil
by: Nancy S. Grant

For electric utilities, the quest for environmentally friendly energy is expanding beyond power plants.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which generates and transmits electricity for 16 distribution cooperatives, recently started using low-emission biodiesel fuel in its Winchester fleet of diesel vehicles.

East Kentucky President Roy Palk says, “Biodiesel significantly reduces air toxins, hydrocarbons, sulfur, and other emissions thought to cause cancer. This program is part of our ongoing commitment to be environmentally responsible.”

East Kentucky uses more than 25,000 gallons of fuel each year for its fleet, which includes about 50 trucks and an assortment of bulldozers, backhoes, and off-road vehicles to maintain 2,500 miles of power lines.

East Kentucky calculates that switching the fleet to biodiesel will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 140,000 pounds each year. Carbon monoxide emissions will be reduced by about 450 pounds each year.

Melissa Howell, executive director for the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition, says, “According to the United States Department of Energy, biodiesel is the fastest growing alternative fuel in the U.S. Biodiesel is so popular because it’s so easy to use. Any vehicle with a diesel engine can use biodiesel fuel immediately—no modifications are needed.”

Howell notes that although it’s possible to run an internal combustion engine with 100 percent biodiesel fuel, blends are more commonly used. Blends make the fuel more affordable.

“A typical blend contains 20 percent biodiesel, made from either soybean oil or recycled vegetable oil, and 80 percent standard diesel fuel,” says Howell. That combination is called a B20 blend.

The B20 blend contains recycled cooking oil (called “yellow grease” in the trade); sometimes the odor of french fries fills the air when vehicles pass by.

Used cooking oil is readily available and will continue to play a significant role in the biodiesel industry. But biodiesel can also be made using fresh soybean oil. Blends featuring soybean oil could help Kentucky’s soybean farmers and their rural communities.

Jaime Morgan, communications director of the Kentucky Soybean Association in Princeton, describes the results of a January 2003 economic impact study conducted by Dr. Kenneth Bowman of Murray State University.

“If Kentucky refiners begin producing biodiesel fuels with a 2 to 5 percent component of soybean oil, that would use anywhere from 23 to 57 percent of Kentucky’s current soybean crop,” Morgan says. “With other uses for our state’s soybean crop already established, this new use would help provide a valuable new market for the crop.”

A group of farmers in Union County in western Kentucky is already investigating establishing a biodiesel manufacturing plant there.

Biodiesel fuels are already steadily gaining popularity. Ten Kentucky school districts use biodiesel for their bus fleets. At Lake Barkley State Park, tractors, pickup trucks, and snowplows use biodiesel; at Mammoth Cave National Park, all diesel vehicles, from ferry boats to lawnmowers, now use biodiesel.

All underground vehicles at the Carmeuse Lime Mine Company’s operations in northern and northeastern Kentucky use a B35 blend biodiesel fuel as they produce the lime for scrubbers at conventional coal-fired power plants.

To find out more about biodiesel fuels, visit these Web sites: www.kentuckycleanfuels.org
or www.kysoy.org.

Next month: Compact fluorescent light bulbs

Energy journalist NANCY GRANT is a member of the Cooperative Communicators Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.