Rolling on canola 

Here’s a pleasant summer forecast: less smoke, more barbecues. Mountain Line General Manager Steve Earle says that since Mountain Line started using Biodiesel/B20 in its entire fleet of buses April 15, “There’s definitely a difference in the exhaust and the odor. You see less black smoke, and it smells like somebody’s having a barbecue.”

Having tested biodiesel for the last three years on paratransit buses, which provide service for the disabled and don’t log nearly the mileage of the fixed-route buses, Earle says Mountain Line’s switch to biodiesel fuel in all 20 buses and six paratransit buses has so far been smooth. He says he anticipates seeing the occasional clogged fuel filter—“a typical reaction any time you change what you store in a fuel tank.”

Right now, Mountain Line has a contract with Cenex and pays $1.60 per gallon for B20—which Earle says is a nickel less per gallon than what they’d be paying today for regular fuel. Using B20 also cuts particulate matter emitted by the buses by a minimum of 20 percent, he says.

And with 26 buses using about 10,000 gallons of fuel per month and traveling about 650,000 miles (with about 700,000 passengers) per year, that’s a noteworthy reduction. It’s also, Earle says, the first time an alternative source of fuel has been used on this scale in the Northwest.

MET Transit in Billings has expressed interest in using biodiesel, too, he says, though they don’t yet have a big enough refinery there to mix it. Mountain Line’s biodiesel is trucked in from the Midwest as B100 and mixed with canola oil in Missoula; if MET Transit wanted biodiesel today, that B100 would have to be mixed in Missoula and hauled to Billings.

But Earle has visions of a biodiesel plant one day existing in central Montana. “It’s a huge opportunity for Eastern Montana and Western Montana to get together and create a product for the entire Northwest,” he says.

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