Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Is Making Its Own Fuel Now

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Is Making Its Own Fuel Now

Article excerpt

Byline: Christina Abel

With a little help from St. Johns County officials and local schools, an alternative fuel project that was just an idea a year ago is now a pilot program that will produce bio-diesel in quantities large enough for the county's fleet of diesel-engine vehicles.

County commissioners approved $125,000 for the project on Oct.1 and Gary Emerson, Fleet Fuel Department manager, said he expects new equipment to arrive within the next month.

Emerson will be able to produce 10 times as much bio-diesel, made from used cooking oil and methanol, as he does now. Emerson produces about 30 gallons of bio-diesel a day; with the new equipment, he will produce 300 gallons a day, or about 60,000 gallons a year.

That will help the county fuel its 300 diesel-engine vehicles, but they consume about 300,000 gallons of fuel a year, so the bio-diesel will have to be mixed with standard petrol diesel to make an impact.

Emerson, who will be named the trend-setter of the year in November's issue of the trade publication Public Works Magazine, said he never expected his idea to get so big.

"I used to come here in the middle of the night to work on this; now I have an entire department," Emerson said.

For now, the goal of Emerson's new Fleet Fuel Department is to satisfy only the county's needs, but he has had calls from other counties, school districts and representatives from nearly every state, asking how they can buy the fuel.

"We're not a profit center, we're just trying to save fuel costs for our county," Emerson said.

Since St. Johns is one of few counties in the United States that produces and uses its own bio-diesel, Emerson said he isn't surprised by the demand because most commercial bio-diesel producers use "virgin oil" from soybeans rather than used cooking oil. Producing that soybean oil bio-diesel is more expensive, Emerson said.

Amber Thurlo Pearson, spokeswoman for the National Bio-diesel Board, said that 90 percent of bio-diesel production in the United States uses soybean oil and the other 10 percent use used vegetable oils and animal by-products.

The main difference between the two, Pearson said, is that the latter form has a tendency to gel in the winter.

"You don't have to worry about that in Florida, though," Pearson said.

Bio-diesel production from soybean oil is becoming more economical because of a federal tax incentive that is now in effect, Pearson said.

Both forms burn clean and are biodegradable Emerson said.

Eventually, the county could produce even more bio-diesel, because there is a 20,000-gallon underground storage facility at the plant in St. Augustine. But the process is limited by the amount of available used cooking oil.

In mid-October, St. Johns County school officials decided to help out by donating all their used cooking oil to the project. …

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