A Power to Preserve

Today, 23 national parks in the United States are using biodiesel. From use in fleet vehicles to marine engines and stationary equipment, many of America's most revered natural and historic places have embraced the clean diesel alternative.
By Jessica Williams, Dave Nilles & Julie Bratvold | July 01, 2004
Scattered throughout the United States, 52 national parks offer scenic serenity to tourists looking to escape the noise and pollution of the city. These beloved forests, seashores, battlefields, monuments and other sites make up 388 units in the National Park Service (NPS). Each is preserved for the enjoyment and inspiration of this and future generations. Managing these national treasures involves economic, social and environmental considerations-something the NPS calls "wise decision-making"-and biodiesel has become a natural fit.

Biodiesel use in the parks didn't start with government programs. Park managers took the initiative to start using environmentally friendly biodiesel on their own. Yellowstone National Park started the trend in 1995, followed by Channel Islands National Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in 2000. In all, 23 national parks are currently using biodiesel in fleet vehicles and/or equipment. At least four other parks were using biodiesel but had to hold off purchasing more until additional funding was received.

To facilitate the move toward renewable fuels, the U.S. DOE gave the NPS $200,000 toward biodiesel use in 2000. Called the Green Energy Parks Initiative, the program supplied parks with biodiesel for a year. After the year expired, the parks were in charge of funding their own biodiesel use. Parks volunteered or were selected to take part in the project, according to Terry Brennan of the NPS.
"My purpose was to help parks that weren't doing anything, wanted to, but just didn't have the funding to do so," Brennan said.

Brennan told Biodiesel Magazine that funding has run out because the federal government's current budget situation doesn't allow for it. Brennan is working hard to make sure biodiesel use in the parks doesn't go by the wayside. He is currently discussing biodiesel supplies with the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), which has contracts available in the Washington, D.C., area. Combined with fuel retail stations, national parks can splash blend B20 at a lower price.

"I don't want [biodiesel use] to stop just because the funding is done," Brennan told Biodiesel Magazine. "I'm not pushing one tool over the other, but I can see so many benefits coming from biodiesel."

Among the many benefits, Brennan pointed out that biodiesel requires no new infrastructure. Aside from new fuel filters, vehicles don't need to be retrofitted. In regards to B100, a fuel spill is easier to clean up than regular diesel fuel or even B20 for that matter.
"The normal American visitor almost expects us to be doing these types of things-and we want to do these types of things," Brennan said. "I can't think of anybody that shuts their eyes to the whole thing."

Biodiesel Magazine chose three national parks, and pioneers of biodiesel use, to highlight in depth. For additional information about biodiesel use in national parks, visit www.nps.gov/renew.

Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park could be considered the "testing of the waters" for biodiesel. It was the first park to use biodiesel in a predominantly water-based environment. The park, consisting of nearly 250,000 acres off the coast of southern California, is made of five islands in an eight-island chain including one nautical mile of surrounding water filled with kelp forests.

Designated a national park in 1980, Channel Islands is home to many rare forms of wildlife. The islands receive only about 30,000 visitors annually with another 60,000 more visiting the mainland visitor's center.

Biodiesel was introduced to the park in the fall of 2000 as part of a two-year pilot program demonstrating the application of 100 percent biodiesel in a marine environment. The move fit with the park's push to eliminate diesel fuel as much as possible and introduce solar and wind energy systems.

"We'll go another mile," Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau said. "It's not always an easy mile sometimes. But we'll continue trying to do something better. There is no end to our desire."

Galipeau started working at the park in 2003. He has worked for 23 years in the NPS in places ranging from Florida to Alaska. He was attracted to the park in part because it is considered a leader in alternative fuels.
The Green Energy Parks Initiative provided at no charge the initial biodiesel made from used cooking oils for the pilot project. The park used 8,000 gallons of biodiesel the first year.

The 56-foot Pacific Ranger whale-watching vessel was the first boat to use the fuel. No modifications were required for the original switch other than cleaning fuel tanks and replacing fuel lines. The park now runs biodiesel in varying blends in all equipment including two large whale-watching vessels. It has experienced few problems other than needing to replace a gasket or two.
Kent Bullard, the park's maintenance supervisor, has been a renewable fuels leader in the NPS and southern California. Galipeau describes Bullard, who has been at Channel Islands for 23 years, as someone who "walks the talk" when it comes to biodiesel and other renewable energy sources.

Bullard once remarked that national parks are not islands. If they minimize environmental impact, the beneficial effects spill over into the community. This eventually came to fruition at Channel Islands.

When the park began using biodiesel, no one in the county carried the fuel. It was delivered to Los Angeles from partially filled rail cars where trucks shipped it to the park in 300-gallon totes. The local marina now has two biodiesel fuel distributors. One carries B100 and the other carries B20.

The fuel totes continue to work well for the more remote islands since they can be placed on boats and carried to the islands too small to handle bulk fuel shipments. One of the smaller islands used only 263 gallons of biodiesel last year for a crane used to move cargo. The park only keeps 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of fuel on hand in case of weather-related emergencies.

Channel Islands uses a wide range of biodiesel blends ranging from B5 to B100. Diesel fuel is typically splash blended for the weaker blends. Bullard said in some cases B5 is used for its lubrication properties. "You could actually hear the engines scream on some of the newer fuel injection motors until B5 was used," Bullard said. "The B5 was used to make them happy."

Lately, the park has been using soy-based biodiesel. In the past, it has used both soy and cooking oil and, at times, a mixture of both.
T.W. Brown Oil Co. delivers the biodiesel from West Central Soy. Bullard said ideally he would like the biodiesel to be locally manufactured.
Galipeau gave three reasons why Channel Islands is a leader in biodiesel and other renewable energy sources. The first is its location makes it more accessible to the California technology scene. The second is the right mix of personnel willing to use biodiesel and search out other possibilities for renewable fuels. Finally, the remoteness of the operations on the islands makes it necessary to use solar and wind power.

He said renewable fuels are something that other parks are shifting to and will continue to look at. "People will do the right thing," Galipeau said. "They just need to know the right thing is there."

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
In 1966, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore became the first lakeshore to be authorized as part of the NPS. Today, nearly 40 years later, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is again recognized as a NPS pioneer-only now it is due to its wide-scale use of bioproducts, including biodiesel.

Located in Munising, Mich., this 73,000-acre national lakeshore offers plenty year-round recreational opportunities to the nearly half million guests who visit each year. Stretching 40 miles along Lake Superior's south shore, Pictured Rocks boasts an assortment of scenic treasures including waterfalls, colorful sandstone cliffs, sand dunes and inland lakes. In addition, its lush forests and sandy beaches are home to a variety of plants and wildlife, making Pictured Rocks a nature photographer's dream. With such diverse environmental factors to take into consideration, it should come as no surprise that Pictured Rocks takes pride in being one of the leading national parks to utilize bioproducts.
The switch to bioproducts at Pictured Rocks did not happen overnight. In the early-to-mid-1990s, employees at the lakeshore started the Environmental Leadership Program, which was designed to look at ways to mitigate any negative effects on the lakeshore's environment, according to Chris Case, facility manager at Pictured Rocks.

As part of the program, staff members began searching to find out what bioproducts were available. In 1999, they started to use soy-hydraulic fluid in some of the larger pieces of equipment, including snowplows and backhoes. While researching the soy-hydraulic fluid, they also discovered information on biodiesel. After further research and conversations with representatives from the Michigan Soybean Office and National Biodiesel Board, Pictured Rocks decided to make the switch from diesel to a B20 blend biodiesel in 2000. Currently, Pictured Rocks uses biodiesel in all 16 pieces of diesel equipment.

Case said the move to biodiesel has been extremely beneficial to the lakeshore. "Since we've been working on it so long, we've gotten most of the bigger issues addressed," he said, referring to the emissions problems that the lakeshore faced prior to switching to biodiesel. "We know we are reducing emissions whether it's visible or not, and the appearance of our equipment is certainly better."

Case is so impressed with the positive environmental impact that bioproducts have had on Pictured Rocks that he now devotes much of his time and energy to encouraging others to use the products as well. He attends conferences and visits other national parks as part of a "road show" where he shows off bioproducts, hands out informational resources, and fields questions from other government and private agencies seeking to start biofuels and bioproducts programs. Last April, Case trekked 2,400 miles in just one week with his road show.

Pictured Rocks' efforts have not gone unnoticed. As a result of their use and promotion of biodiesel and other bioproducts, the staff at the lakeshore have been the recipients of several high-profile awards, including the Department of Interior's Environmental Achievement Award, the White House "Closing the Circle" Award (a presidential award which recognizes excellence in environmental leadership), and the National Park Service Director's Award, which is the highest award bestowed by the NPS.

Awards such as these give credibility to the use of bioproducts, said Case. "We have several audiences we are trying to reach with our plan-the public, the community and the National Park Service," he said. "By getting the recognition, it helps us get out to the other parks."
Despite the inroads that Pictured Rocks has made with the use of biodiesel, there are still challenges. Availability is an ongoing obstacle, according to Case. Currently, the biodiesel is shipped in from out of state in 265-gallon totes, but Case would like to see it become available locally. This summer, Nelson Oil Co., a gas station in Munising, became the first station in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to sell biodiesel. The station will be selling B100 on a trial basis through the season, which Case regards as a step closer to making biodiesel readily available in the region. If Nelson Oil Co. starts carrying biodiesel on a permanent basis, Case said Pictured Rocks would buy it from them.

Pictured Rocks is also striving to get more community support for biodiesel. Last summer, the staff held a bioproducts workshop to encourage other local agencies to use renewable resources. Case said that some tour boat operators in the region plan to begin using biodiesel, and he is trying to convince local school buses and public transportation to do the same. "We want the community to get involved," he said. "[Pictured Rocks] can be a nice example here in the bay."

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park to use biodiesel beginning in 1995, but the celebration of the park's 125th anniversary really propelled the alternative fuel forward.

"We, as managers, pondered the question of what we were going to do for the next 125 years to help preserve and protect the treasure that is Yellowstone," Jim Evanoff of Yellowstone National Park said. "We developed a cadre of initiatives that advanced the level of environmental stewardship within the park and surrounding region."

When the first B100 vehicle was tested, the fuel was produced by the University of Idaho. As the program expanded, transporting biodiesel in large quantities to Yellowstone proved to be a challenge, however. The closest biodiesel production plant was located in California, so the fuel had to be shipped in by rail. Cold climates didn't make biodiesel use ideal either. "We felt [Yellowstone] would be the perfect test bed because of severe climate and high elevation," Evanoff said. "We felt if we could be successful here, biodiesel could work anywhere."

Now, 132 years after former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone a public park, or "pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," the park uses a B20 biodiesel blend in over 300 vehicles and pieces of equipment. The park purchases 50,000 gallons per year of B100 and blends it on site. Evanoff said the park has come a long way since its first biodiesel vehicle, a 1995 truck that ran on B100. The vehicle is still on the road today.

"That was the ultimate test," Evanoff said. "It was only going to be for summer use. We fought that vigorously, because we wanted to prove it could run in cold temperatures. Of course, [the biodiesel truck] wouldn't start when it was 40 below, but nothing else started either."

Another issue arose. With 600 grizzly bears living in the greater Yellowstone area, park employees wanted to make sure biodiesel wouldn't attract the animals living in the park. Workers take great care to remove garbage from the park every day to reduce odors that attract grizzlies, and some employees wondered if the B100 truck would heighten the problem because of biodiesel's tendency to smell like french fries as it is exhausted. To squelch those fears, in 1995, Evanoff drove the truck to Washington State University, where captive grizzlies were being used for research. He pumped the truck's exhaust into the cages to see if the bears would be attracted to it, but they didn't show any particular response to the odor.

Yellowstone's biodiesel feedstock and supplier varies. The B100 truck runs on rapeseed or mustard seed from the University of Idaho, a partner in the park's renewable fuels project. The B20 blend is mostly soy-based. The park buys a rail car load at a time from the lowest bidder. One car came from Western Imperial in California. The most recent batch came from Nebraska.
The switch to biodiesel took little to no retrofitting of equipment. In some older vehicles, the fuel filters needed replacing more frequently, because biodiesel has strong solvent characteristics, it would remove the built-up deposits in the fuel tank. However, Evanoff said there was no difference in the vehicles' performance or miles per gallon.

he U.S. DOE gave Yellowstone a boost in terms of funding at the start of the project. Thanks to the Green Energy Parks Initiative, other parks either volunteered or were selected to begin using biodiesel. "That actually was hatched because of the success of the B100 truck in Yellowstone," Evanoff said.

Biodiesel use in Yellowstone isn't confined to the park boundaries either. Renewable fuel use is starting to appear in the surrounding area. A public biodiesel service station opened in West Yellowstone, Mont., and Bozeman, Mont., has started using biodiesel in some of its city fleet vehicles.

Along with using biodiesel, Yellowstone Park employees take a strong part in educating the public about the alternative fuel. Evanoff speaks publicly of his facility's biodiesel use whenever he can. "We don't like to operate within the boundaries of Yellowstone Park," Evanoff said. "Since we started the program, it's spreading to both regional and national levels."

While most parks have just recently implemented biodiesel to their fleets and the longevity of that use remains to be seen, Yellowstone National Park has proven that the fuel does work and is friendly to the environment. The park doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon. Expansion plans are in the works.

"We've got this thing down to a routine," Evanoff said. "We're going to expand. Within a year, we hope to have B20 available at five gas stations in the park so the public will have a choice.

"When people come into Yellowstone, they get into another frame of mind. They want to do the right thing."
 
 
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