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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Campus Bus to Run Off Vegetable Oil

    Stony Brook University is starting to become a little more environmentally conscious with a new initiative to retrofit the campus buses by converting their engines to run off of vegetable oil, a cleaner burning fuel. ‘It’s to increase the campus sustainability,’ said Jim O’Connor, director of transportation and parking. The project will use left over vegetable oil from the Kelly Quad dormitory dining area to fuel the buses. This will promote campus sustainability because the university is using waste from one area to create a useable resource in another. Once the project is up and running vegetable oil could also be used from the student activities center (SAC) and other campus dining locations. ‘We’re getting greener,’ said Martha Alarcon, 21 a biology student who considers herself an environmentalist and tries to conserve on gasoline for her car when possible. Using vegetable oil as fuel instead of diesel releases up to 75 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere according to the Recycling and Sustainability page on the Roger William University web page. The current fleet of 24 buses runs off of biodiesel. ‘This fuel is a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources,’ according to the National Biodiesel Board web page. Biodiesel is cleaner than petroleum diesel because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions according to the NBB. The fuel is used for diesel engines, which are found in trucks and buses. Biodiesel is made from natural oils such as soybean oil. ‘The US Department of Energy found biodiesel production and use produced 78 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum diesel,’ according to canolainfo.org. ‘It sounds like a good idea,’ said Elizabeth Perez, 20, a biochemistry major of the bus conversion. Perez likens the environmental initiative to the push in Latin American countries to use corn as fuel. Over the last eight years, biodiesel consumption in the United States increased by 249,500,000 gallons to 250 million gallons in 2006 according to NBB. The university currently spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on biodiesel each year according to O’Connor. Biodiesel does contain vegetable oil and is much cleaner than regular petroleum gasoline, but using straight vegetable oil is even cleaner for the environment because it does not need to be mixed with gas like biodiesel does. Although Stony Brook is moving away from biodiesel, it will still be used. ‘Until the vegetable oil reaches the operating temperature that it can flow through the fuel lines of the bus, it will run on biodiesel,’ said David McAvoy, supervisor of automotive repair facilities. After several minutes when the oil reaches the correct temperature, the bus will switch over to vegetable oil and continue to run on the oil alone. Then, several minutes before it shuts down for the night, the engine will switch back to biodiesel so it will flush out the fuel lines and fuel injector according to McAvoy. ‘So the bus will essentially be running on two fuels,’ said McAvoy. One drawback to using vegetable oil to power vehicles is it is much more likely to become clogged in the engine because it is more viscous. Studies have found the oil to damage engines, according to journeytoforever.org. The university is prepared to handle any problem that arises. Spare filters and parts will be available in the bus in case of a clog, according to O’Connor. The goal is to have the first bus up and running within the next few weeks, O’Connor said. ‘Depending on the success of this first bus, we can evaluate if we can do other buses,’ O’Connor said. ‘We are not familiar with how it’s going to run, operate or how reliable or not reliable it’s going to be.’ Campus buses run constantly throughout the day shuttling residents and commuter students back and forth between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. This creates a constant steam of emissions. Using vegetable oil will decrease the amount of emissions and fuel costs on campus dramatically but there is no projection yet as to how much will be saved, O’Connor said. Currently the university pays an outside vendor to come in and cart away the used vegetable oil. But by using the oil as fuel, the university will save significantly by reducing its carting costs. Stony Brook is not the only university jumping on the vegetable bandwagon. So far Harvard University, Roger Williams University and Dartmouth University have converted campus buses to run off of vegetable oil. Roger Williams University converted a 1997 Ford F-350 Van to operate on vegetable oil. The year before the conversion, the van was used throughout the school year and driven 17,000 miles, burning 2400 gallons of diesel fuel with a price tag of $6,939. The school expects the first year with vegetable oil to cost only $329 for the diesel and to use 2290 fewer gallons of diesel. Roger William took 100 percent vegetable oil used to deep-fry fried foods in the dining area to fuel the buses. The university hopes to have the first bus up and running within the next three or four weeks.

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