Biofuels aren't a practical or affordable solution for the fire service, Master EVT Mike Stankus testified before a Washington Senate subcommittee currently considering an exemption to 2007 legislation requiring publicly owned emergency vehicles to be converted to biofuel or electricity by 2015.
"Until the biofuels meet ISO ratings and stay as consistent the fossil fuels dothe fire service would prefer to refrain from the use of biofuels," Stankus testified. "The biofuels do not only decrease the performance and reliability of fire apparatus, but they also impact small equipment that use fossil fuels. Additives are needed for the small equipment to perform properly and be reliable.
"Any firefighter or first responder will tell you that reliability is very important otherwise they will be the consequences of impacting life and property," he said.
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) proposed exceptions to the unfunded environmental conversion rule, ESB 5099, which she said would "put an unnecessary burden" on smaller towns and cities. The Rivers bill gives a conversion exemption to any emergency vehicle owned by the state, which includes police cars, fire apparatus and ambulances. The bill passed in the Senate 46-2 (one member was absent from voting) before it moved onto the House Environment Committee, where it received a public hearing.
"If you research biodiesel, you will find conflicting information regarding the use and operating costs," Stankus testified. "Depending on what blend is used, that will dictate different change over procedures needed when converting a vehicle to biofuels. It's not a matter of just pulling up to the fuel pump and start using biofuels."
Stankus — a Master Medium/Heavy Truck ASE Technician and a Master Emergency Vehicle Technician — cited a number of factors that make biofuels incompatible for the fire service at this time. His reasons include:
- The cold-weather property of biodiesel diminishes when temperatures decrease to 40 degrees and less.
- The biodiesel has a tendency to jell up when temperatures drop. Water solubility of biodiesel is poor.
- Biodiesel has problems with microbial growth that will plug up fuel filters and fuel systems, plus force engines to shut down without any notice.
- When the biofuels are stored, there have been a number of storage stability issues that need to be considered.
- The consistent fuel quality is another huge factor that needs to be addressed, since it is commonly known that there is an ASTM standard, but not all producers are following this standard. Cetane rating of the biodiesel should be over 50, but there are many inconsistencies that alter the performance of the diesel engines.
Stankus believes that emissions standards by the U.S. EPA adequately address environmental protection.
"Now days, the gas and diesel engines are 'green' engines that burn clean, meaning [they don't] produce carbon monoxide or soot," Stankus said. "This is the future trend for fire departments, instead of using biofuels at the current time.
"Engines being built currently … meet the highest standards of the Environmental Protection Agency," he continued. "You will no longer see the big clouds of black smoke from any type of combustion engine application. Nationally the EPA has mandated changes that are helping to make cleaner running vehicles for the environment. The mandates from the EPA also include Washington State."
Stankus testified at the request of the Washington fire chiefs and fire commissioners associations.
"Firefighters and first responders would rather do the job that they are hired to do versus worry about the apparatus they are responding in will make it.