Hydro’s power

by Brandi Cramer

TORONTO, Ont. – When looking towards the future, sometimes the air can cloud your vision, especially if you call Hogtown home.

As you travel on the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a seemingly permanent brown film of smog is the welcome mat laid out for visitors by the approximately 2.5 million residents.

Because cars and trucks are among the leading sources of smog-causing pollution in the GTA, Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. has set its sights on the future and reducing the particulate material coming from its vehicles.

Last fall the company launched a biodiesel pilot project.

A renewable, non-toxic diesel fuel substitute derived from products such as soybean and canola oils, animal fats, and even recycled cooking oil, biodiesel runs any standard diesel engine.

It can be used in its pure form, B100, although it is commonly blended at 20 per cent with standard diesel (referred to as B20).

Roger Smith, manager of fleet services, says he is pretty sure Toronto Hydro is the only company in Canada using biodiesel fleet-wide.

“The city of Brampton announced a test project where they will test 16 trucks and they expect to roll it out by this summer to the rest of their fleet as well. We’re the first,” he confirms.

“We had between 80 to 100 trucks running on biodiesel in our pilot project and we rolled it out to about 400 trucks in July.”

The company now has approximately 800 trucks, of which 400 are now powered by biodiesel with the other half using ethanol fuel in gasoline powered engines.

“So we’re probably one of the few fleets in North America that is using an alternate fuel in every vehicle in our entire fleet,” says Smith.

And that puts Toronto Hydro in good standing, given the report recently issued by an all-party committee of the Ontario Legislature calling for tax incentives to accelerate the use of cleaner fuels and equipment in transportation and other industrial sectors.

The Ontario Select Committee on Alternative Fuel Sources wants to see the province establish tax incentives for alternative fuel/energy technology and exempt biodiesel from provincial taxation.

While the benefits of biodiesel are often up for debate, the proponents of this Canadian invention point to a U.S. Department of Energy report stating B100 reduces greenhouse gas emissions from engines upwards of 78 per cent. These results have made it the single most effective global warming reduction technology for existing diesel engines.

Also, biodiesel B100 is completely biodegradable and non-toxic to both flora and fauna eliminating ground water and soil contamination fears.

Smith says his firm expected to see a slight power decrease when going the Earth-friendly route.

“The efficiency is exactly the same as diesel fuel, the power is exactly the same … the only problem is there is a slight up-charge to the cost,” he says.

Right now the price difference is a few cents more than regular diesel fuel. “We think it’s worth it, but we’re supporting the extra cost with the subsidy of natural gas fuels in our smaller vehicles. So whatever we’re saving by natural gas we are offsetting the cost using biodiesel in our big trucks,” says Smith. “It’s a wash, it’s cost neutral.”

Some benefits Smith says the company has witnessed in the past year include a 20 per cent reduction of carbon monoxide, a 30 per cent reduction of unburned hydro carbons and also a 22 per cent reduction of particulate matter, which is considered by many to be a carcinogen.

“There is no sulfur, which causes acid rain, in biodiesel,” says Smith. “It is a renewable fuel … and it is something that will decrease our dependence on the oil producing countries.”

He sees a bright future for the alternative fuel.

“We’re hoping that the government will remove the road tax from it. When this happens, it will be price competitive with diesel fuel if not cheaper. When that happens you will see every trucker in the world wanting this stuff. It will do great things for our environment.”

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