Ferry system tests biodiesel in three ferries

Biodiesel testing on the 124-car ferry Issaquah, which runs on the Vashon-Southworth-Fauntleroy route, began on Monday, March 10, as Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division launched the testing phase of a biodiesel research and demonstration project.

The division is partnering with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and other regional stakeholders to test the use of biodiesel in the marine environment and reduce air pollution.

The Issaquah was removed from the triangle route over the weekend of March 8-9 so crews could clean the vessel’s fuel tanks and fill them with 5 percent soy-based biodiesel fuel. It returned to service on Monday morning.

The ferries division tested biodiesel in 2004, according to communications manager Hadley Greene. But the mixture it used — 20 percent bio/80 percent diesel mixture — resulted in severe clogging in the filters and purifiers, she said in an interview on Monday.

The new effort, Greene said, would be more scientific. The project will start with a 5 percent bio, 95 percent ultra-low sulfur diesel mixture. The previous tests did not use the ultra-low mixture. And last time the tanks were not thoroughly cleaned before the experiment began, which meant that there was residue from the previous diesel fuel. The plan is to increase the bio percentage every 30 days.

The decision to test biodiesel was based on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s 2005 executive order for sustainability and 2006 legislation requiring state agencies to use a minimum of 20 percent biodiesel by 2009.

Each year, the state ferry system burns approximately 17 million gallons of diesel fuel on its ferries, making the agency a significant fuel consumer in Puget Sound.

“We’re committed to responsible stewardship of Puget Sound. This pilot project is an exciting chance to see how we can make changes to one part of the ferry system and contribute to preserving the environment for the citizens of Washington,” David Moseley, who heads the state ferries division, said in a news release.

Next month, the ferries division plans to begin testing biodiesel on a second ferry. The 87-car Klahowya will be fueled with 5 percent canola-based biodiesel. The third state ferry to receive biodiesel fuel will be the 87-car Tillikum.

The tests are scheduled to run until February 2009.

A research team involved with the project will publish a report based on its findings that will guide organizations in marine- and land-based uses of biodiesel, according to a news release.

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel made from vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases or animal fats. It contains minimal sulfur and is compatible with diesel-powered vehicles like the state’s ferries.

Using biodiesel instead of traditional petroleum-based fuels reduces emission of particulate matter and greenhouse gases, which impact air quality and the Earth’s climate.

In addition to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, partners in the project include Seattle City Light, the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State University, the University of Idaho, Imperium Renewables, Rainier Petroleum and Sound Refining.