CRPS buses go green with biodiesel fuel

By Tanya Foubert - Bow Valley

While the wheels on the bus go round and round, the diesel fuel in the valley's school buses is going green.

After an impressive and well-researched proposal from Banff High School students in April, the Canadian Rockies Public School Division has decided to take its fleet of 28 diesel buses to the next step, environmentally-speaking, in reducing emissions by converting to biodiesel in September.

"Biodiesel is something we can do now," said CRPS transportation manager Barb Quinn. "(The students) lit the bomb underneath me to get some decisions made and move forward."

The students' project is in its third year - after starting out small and producing biodiesel, they made a proposal to the school board to move to the emission-reducing fuel type. It also makes the valley the first school division in the province to start using biodiesel in its buses.

The students' initiative and business proposal made superintendant Brian Callaghan and the school board sit up and take notice.

"It was a slam dunk once they lined up all the ducks," Callaghan said. "Obviously, they were taking their learning to the next level.

"Once they brought their information forward, and contacts in the industry, it started to flush itself out in terms of feasibility and viability."

Two years ago, BCHS students physically manufactured biodiesel in the classroom and successfully tested it on equipment at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. Continuing last year, the students spent more time researching global use of biodiesel and trying to come up with ways to hurdle some of the obstacles to its use.

The Banff Centre joined forces with the students about two and a half years ago to see where that organization could fit into the project, and last year it piloted biodiesel fuel in several Bobcats.

The students then decided to take their project to the next level and the new goal was to have all the school buses in the district running on B20-grade biodiesel by 2010. That would mean 20 per cent of the fuel in the bus is organic and accompanied by a

20 per cent reduction in emissions.

During their proposal to the school board, the kids had information on containment systems for the fuel, insurance and warranty protocols for switching fuel types and grants the region could access to implement the program.

Quinn said she is currently in the permit approval process with the petroleum tank association and the Town of Canmore to get the system up and running.

To have the buses run on a biodiesel mix, a 10,000-litre fuel tank ($26,600) will have to be installed because no gas station in the valley offers the mixture.

Quinn said the buses will run on a five per cent mixture in winter and either a 20 or 50 per cent mixture in summer. She said if the buses go from five to 20 it will result in a 12 per cent overall reduction in emissions. Multiply that across the entire fleet of buses and the environmental gains are substantial.

"If all the school buses in the province went to biodiesel, it would make a significant difference," Quinn said. "I'm hoping to be the first and who knows, I'm hoping it will catch on a little bit."

This is not the only environmentally-minded transportation initiative offered by the school division. Quinn said electricity in the bus yard is cycled to conserve power and all buses operate with an anti-idling policy in place.

The three times a week walking school bus initiative at Elizabeth Rummel Elementary School has also made a significant impact since it began in February.

Quinn crunched the numbers and the 13 families that participated reduced the number of car trips to the school by 780 and saved 23,400 minutes or 16 days of driver idle time, improving safety and reducing congestion around the school.

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