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Municipality wants to experiment with low emissions diesel fuel

Premium fuel would cost more

A new high-grade fuel, proven to reduce harmful air emissions, could be powering the municipality’s diesel fleet in the months to come.

The fuel, a low sulphur/low aromatic diesel, is produced by Shell at their Scotford Refinery east of Edmonton.

"It’s like a premium grade fuel… except it just has better qualities," said Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works at the municipality.

"There’s new legislation for emissions coming into place in 2007 and then future ones for 2010 so oil and gas companies as well as car manufacturing companies are working away on these new emissions standards and this fuel, an ultra low sulphur (fuel), is a step in that direction."

But there’s one major hitch to the plan.

The fuel isn’t available in Whistler.

Barnett however sees a way around that problem through the Lower Mainland Municipal Association.

Currently the municipality purchases its regular diesel fuel at a bulk rate from the LMMA.

"What we would do is ask the Lower Mainland Municipal Association to see if they can buy enough fuel to make Shell interested in delivering this good fuel," said Barnett.

"So it would probably mean a number of municipalities would be using it, not just Whistler."

Denita Davis, public affairs representative with Shell Canada, said the company would be more than willing to explore the possibilities of working with municipalities.

Shell’s low sulphur/low aromatic fuel has been available since 2002 she explained but not for regular retail purchase.

"The market for these types of fuels is only just emerging," she said.

"Right now we’re working with a number of fleet operators who’ve shown an interest in the low sulphur/low aromatic diesel as a cost effective way to reduce emissions."

Compared to engines running on regular low sulphur diesel, engines running on Shell’s low sulphur/low aromatic diesel emit 70 per cent less oxides of sulphur, 12 per cent less particulate matter and five per cent less oxides and nitrogen oxides.

The fuel however is generally a little more expensive than regular diesel fuel.

"Diesel prices depend on a variety of factors," said Davis.

"Low sulphur/low aromatic diesel is a premium product and costs more to produce than regular low sulphur gasoline. But on any given day it’s difficult to say exactly how the price compares of low sulphur/low aromatic diesel to regular low sulphur diesel just because there are so many market factors to consider."

Barnett envisions the fuel could be delivered to the fuel dispensing system at the municipal works yard where it would be distributed to the municipality’s 14 on road diesel vehicles and 18 off road vehicles.

"What we’re proposing is to try it and see how it works and how we like it (but) not make a full-time, long-term commitment," said Barnett.

"Really this is just implementing the 2007 (emissions) standards a little bit early."

The move to explore options with Shell’s high-grade fuel was approved by council at the July 5 meeting when they adopted the alternative fuel and technology study.

That study details short, medium and long term strategies to deal with air quality through alternative fuels and other initiatives in the municipal fleet, the B.C. Transit fleet and the Whistler-Blackcomb fleet.

Of all the short-term options explored in the study, the Shell low sulphur/low aromatic fuel came out on top for all diesel fleets.

Barnett is proposing to use the Shell fuel for the municipal fleet only as part of a pilot program.

"If it turns out that we use it, we like it, Shell makes a commitment to regularly deliver to Whistler, then I could see it being expanded to other fleets," he said.

"But when you’re doing this test work then you want to have it a bit limited just for measuring and recording the benefits and any problems that develop."

Another recent municipal pilot project on bio-diesel fuel in a handful of vehicles and lawnmowers has been very successful added Barnett and will most likely be expanded to more vehicles.

"It showed lots of good results," he said.

The alternative fuel report details future options in the medium term and the long term, including using hybrid buses, natural gas and bio-diesel as well as looking into showcasing hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

A day after Barnett’s report was adopted by council he flew to Saskatchewan with Mayor Hugh O’Reilly for a demonstration on the use of hydrogen in vehicles.

Along with the Whistler representatives, other attendees included the president and CEO of BC Transit, the project manager of the Hydrogen Highway initiative and the chair of the 2010 sustainable energy committee.

They saw a vehicle modified by the Saskatchewan Research Council, which ran on a hydrogen-blend fuel.

Barnett did not want to get specific on the details of the proposal because it is in the preliminary stages.

"The concept of injecting hydrogen into vehicle engines is not new," said Barnett.

"This is just a different way of doing it.

"(The proponent) would like to perhaps demonstrate this in Whistler when it becomes fuel ready and this was orientating us on his work."

Barnett said he would be bringing forward a report to council soon on the work that has been done to date on the hydrogen initiative.