Ferry system sees positive biodiesel test results

By Bryan Sims | May 14, 2008
In Washington, where a high percentage of biodiesel is used by consumers on land, the Washington State Department of Transportation's Ferries Division is trying to match that same level of usage by sea.

The ferry division began fueling two ferries with B2 and B5 blends in March to test the viability of biodiesel in a marine environment. The Issaquah, a 124-car ferry, has been successfully running on soy-based B5 mixed with ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) since March 10, while the Tillikum, an 87-car ferry, increased from canola-based B2 to B5 in April. Tests are scheduled to increase the blends to B10 in May, then B20 before ending in March 2009.

According to Paul Brodeur, director of vessel maintenance, preservation and engineering for the ferries division, performance and operational problems haven't been encountered thus far. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "So far, we've been running B5 successfully, and I hope it continues."

If all goes well, Brodeur said another ferry, the Klahoya, may begin running on a B5 blend derived from animal fats or yellow grease in May, "something that has a higher cloud point than either soy or canola," he said.

Testing biodiesel in the Issaquah and other ferries is the second attempt in four years by the division, which unsuccessfully implemented a soy-based B20 blend in 2004-'05 that caused severe clogging in the vessels' filters and purifiers. Today, all biodiesel used by the ferry division is ASTM and BQ-9000 certified, which wasn't the case during the division's first test, Brodeur said. "I'm pretty certain that back in 2004-'05 part of our problem was that we had a product that was good quality and met spec, but it was marginally on spec," he said. "The specifications have gotten tighter since 2005, and producers are producing higher-quality fuel to meet those tighter specifications now."

This most recent test comes in response to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's aggressive renewable fuels initiatives, which require all state fleets to use a B20 blend by 2009, including marine vessels. It was a collaboration that included the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Imperium Renewables Inc., Rainier Petroleum, Sound Refining Inc., Seattle City Light, the U.S. DOE, Washington State University and the University of Idaho.

According to Brodeur, the state ferry division uses approximately 17 million gallons of diesel per year. "Our intention is to hopefully help the maritime industry move toward cleaner-burning fuels and alternative fuels such as biodiesel," he said. "A successful test would send a very strong message to other operators that [biodiesel] would be a viable fuel option in the marine transportation industry."
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