RFTA battles bus ‘bio-scum’ | AspenTimes.com

RFTA battles bus ‘bio-scum’

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority hopes it has learned how to combat the “bio-scum” that threatened to sideline its fleet of buses late last year.The bio-scum, or bacterial growth, shut down three buses after RFTA switched to a biodiesel fuel blend last fall, according to RFTA’s director of maintenance, Kenny Osier. The scum plugged the fuel pumps and fuel filters of the buses, requiring their removal from service for maintenance. Further investigation showed the algae threatened several other buses, Osier said.RFTA officials eventually traced the problem to use of biodiesel, a vegetable-based alternative fuel. The algae would bloom when the fuel tanks contained water, a typical occurrence, Osier said. The bacteria would then spread through the water and fuel, migrating to other parts of the bus.”The reality is it was growing like crazy in there,” Osier said. In the most extreme cases, they found clumps of algae looking like the stuff growing on pools of water in the desert, he said.RFTA stopped using the biodiesel in November and started working with Agland, a Front Range-based distributor, to find a solution to the problem. None of the affected buses suffered long-term damage, but draining fuel tanks in virtually all buses and replacing fuel filters and pumps in three buses consumed time and money. Agland reimbursed RFTA for the expenses.RFTA started using biodiesel last year because the alternative energy source is in tune with its environmental goals. The agency also employs four diesel-electric hybrid buses and expects the delivery of three more this summer. About 5 percent of the biodiesel blend RFTA uses is soy-based; the remainder is regular diesel fuel. Still, use of that blend over one year saves 30,000 gallons of petroleum-based diesel fuel, Osier said.”We’re very interested in making it succeed, but it’s got some problems,” Osier said.Agland provided RFTA with a “biocide” that can prevent formation of bacteria in fuel tanks and kill it if it does form. RFTA will sample fuel on a weekly basis for the presence of both water and bacteria. “If we still get algae problems and bacterial growth we’ll cut it off again,” Osier said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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