June 01, 2010
North Carolina is where the "blubber" hits the road as chicken fat and used cooking oil are now some of the ingredients in the fuel powering a number of the state's public school buses. During April and May, 16 North Carolina counties including Bladen, Brunswick, Burke, Catawba, Chatham, Dare, Durham, Edgecombe, Gaston, Martin, Onslow, Orange, Pender, Tyrrell, Union and Wake are participating in a blitz to use biodiesel in school buses. In 2007, the state legislature established an annual target of a minimum of two percent biodiesel in public school buses statewide.
Piedmont Biofuels, Potter Oil & Tire Co., and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) are working together on the project. Many hope this initiative is the beginning of a transition to using cleaner fuel in more school districts.
"We were pleased with the initial response from school districts," said NCDPI Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham. "The environmental benefit of having school buses on the road is extremely significant if you compare it to the congestion and pollution that would result from every parent driving their children to school. Using biodiesel makes the benefit all the greater, and decreases our dependence on foreign oil."
The biodiesel for this project is produced at Piedmont Biofuels, located in Pittsboro, N.C., and then delivered to Potter Oil in Aurora, N.C., where it is mixed with regular diesel into a B20 combination, meaning the final substance is 20 percent biodiesel.
The fuel combination is enough to reduce harmful emissions by around 20 percent, according to Rachel Burton of Piedmont Biofuels. "The biodiesel creation process produces a decrease in carcinogens of particulate matter, burnt hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, which is good for the environment and has a positive impact on public health," Burton said. She added that the reduction is especially important for elementary school children because of their smaller size and weight. "The typical range in which harmful particulate matter is found is around four feet high. Often young students are breathing harmful matter that adults are not because of their height," she said.
"We're very excited to be a part of this initiative," said Anita Edge, transportation director of Bladen County Schools. "We want to be part of any ecology project relating to clean air management."
The biodiesel project is not the first one related to education for the Piedmont Biofuels cooperative. It has previously put mini-plants on school buses so students can understand how biofuel is made, without having to travel to their site. Piedmont Biofuels encourages school groups to tour their facilities, which are part of a green industrial park that focuses on renewable energy, local food and community support.