ANNAPOLIS – A bipartisan group of lawmakers, intent on reducing dependence on foreign oil, has introduced a flurry of legislation to boost homegrown fuels.
The bills variously promote both biodiesel, made from any oil-containing vegetable or animal product, and ethanol, made from any fermentable substance.
One bill, sponsored chiefly by Sen. John A. Giannetti, D-Prince George’s, would require that beginning in FY 2007, 20 percent of the state’s diesel fleet use fuel that is at least 20 percent biodiesel.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, and Delegate Joan Carter Conway, D- Baltimore City, along with many co-sponsors, have introduced a pair of bills in the Senate and the House to establish a Renewable Fuels Incentive Board that would specify production credits for ethanol and biodiesel.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, Delegate Richard A. Sossi, R-Queen Anne’s, Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, and Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Cecil, have introduced bills to specifically exempt for three years biodiesel fuel used in Queen Anne’s County government vehicles from the state fuel tax of approximately 24 cents a gallon.
The county has about 188 vehicles, including 20 school buses, that run on diesel. The tax exemption would make it economically feasible to run them on biodiesel, which is more expensive than conventional diesel fuel.
“We all want to cut our dependence on foreign oil — to grow our way out of dependence on foreign oil,” Pipkin said.
“The big thing for me is anything we can do to provide additional markets and help agriculture in the face of (suburban) growth,” said Sossi. “The best land protection is a profitable farm.”
Biodiesel is typically made from soybean oil. The remaining soybean meal can be fed to poultry and other livestock.
James Wood, regional recycling coordinator for Queen Anne’s, Kent, Talbot, and Caroline counties, said he’d been working on the idea of using biodiesel fuel for government vehicles since January 2002. That month he attended a national conference in Berkeley, Calif., on how governments can become more environmentally friendly.
Wood learned that the city of Berkeley ran most of its diesel vehicles on 100 percent biodiesel fuel because it was concerned about the health impact, particularly the particulate emissions, of driving diesel vehicles through neighborhoods week after week. Biodiesel reduces the production of many pollutants, including particulate matter.
“I wanted to do things differently with my trucks. I bought an old truck and ran B20 (20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel) for a month with no problem,” Wood said.
“The nice thing about biodiesel is you don’t need new trucks,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is price.”
Because biodiesel production and distribution are limited, the fuel costs about a penny a gallon more than regular diesel for each percent of biodiesel in the mixture. For example, the pure biodiesel, B100, used by the city of Berkeley, costs about a dollar a gallon more than diesel made from petroleum.
Biodiesel may make good economic sense for Queen Anne’s, which is the largest producer of soybeans in the state. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics for 2002, the United States produced 2.89 billion bushels of soybeans, Maryland 20.1 million and Queen Anne’s about 1.2 million.
Maryland’s crop was worth about $115 million, said Suzanne Zilberfarb of the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association. Zilberfarb and Jon Quinn, president of the association and soybean farmer, addressed the Eastern Shore delegation of the Maryland General Assembly last week on the present and future prospects of biodiesel.
With the help of Paul Gunther, Queen Anne’s agricultural extension agent, and Zilberfarb, Wood put together a plan for using biodiesel in Queen Anne’s county vehicles.
After the monthlong trial in one vehicle, the county applied for and received a $100,000 state grant to cover the increased cost of biodiesel.
Even though biodiesel reduces emissions of some pollutants, including diesel particulates, it increases the emission of smog-forming nitrogen oxides unless an additive is blended in, said Brad Heavner, state director of the environmental group MaryPIRG.
Not all engines show increased nitrogen oxide emissions with biodiesel, but it’s impossible to predict which will, said John Van de Vaarst, agricultural researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville biodiesel facility.
“My personal crusade is that biodiesel eliminates polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by 13 percent, and nitrated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by 50 percent. Both are potent carcinogens, so by using biodiesel in school buses, children are inhaling less,” Van de Vaarst said.
The Beltsville facility has been using B20 since 1999, he said — B20 because manufacturers won’t warrantee engines for mixtures with more biodiesel until more testing is done. They buy their biodiesel through the Department of Defense.
Takoma Park, Arlington County, Va., Dover, Andrew, and Bolling Air Force bases, Connective Energy and Pepco all use some biodiesel, which is also used in generators, home heating, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s boats, according to Seth Powell of biodiesel supplier Tri Gas and Oil Co., of Federalsburg, Md.