By Kathi Keys
Staff Writer, The Courier-Tribune
ASHEBORO – The N.C. Zoo received its first 400 gallons of biodiesel, a fuel made completely from vegetable oil, Tuesday afternoon – the initial step to eventually producing its own while providing a cleaner air quality for its visitors and staff.
“We’ll start using it right away,” said Mary Joan Pugh, the zoo’s finance officer and chief of staff, as the biodiesel was transferred from a yellow Piedmont Biofuels tank truck to a recently installed new tank, next to one containing diesel fuel.
The biodiesel, known as B100, contains no petroleum products. It’s made from vegetable oil, such as oil from soybeans.
Zoo officials will use the biodiesel to create its own B20 blend of 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent conventional diesel fuel for its diesel trams and buses for visitors, service equipment and mega generator.
A $2,000 grant has made the purchase of the biodiesel possible for the next several months. There will also be signage letting zoo visitors know about the vehicles being fueled by this energy source.
“Eventually we will make our own from vegetable oil – 100 percent from our restaurants,” Pugh said.
The zoo has applied for a second grant to build a reactor to accomplish the transformation of waste vegetable oil into biofuel for its vehicular fleet.
“This is cleaner burning and has a fraction of the emissions,” said Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels about the biodiesel delivered Tuesday at the zoo.
He noted that the tank truck making the delivery was fueled by the pure biodiesel. And his 1992 Dodge pickup truck has been operating on biodiesel since January.
Rachel Burton, co-founder of the cooperative based in Pittsboro, said Piedmont Biofuels representatives originally met with zoo staff a year ago to discuss the use and production of biodiesel from vegetable oil.
Two zoo employees were also educated further about the process through Central Carolina Community College in Chatham County where Burton is a biofuels and automotive instructor. CCCC offers, through its continuing education program, biofuels courses.
Information about biofuels was available at this year’s Earth Day activities at the zoo.
The partnership has grown as the zoo was awarded the grant to purchase biodiesel. Piedmont Biofuels will also assist with the reactor design, for the state agency to do its own processing, when the zoo receives its second grant.
Additionally, the Pittsboro-based cooperative has received a grant to offer six biodiesel workshops throughout the state. One is expected to be held next spring at the zoo.
Burton said other agencies are also involved in using biodiesel – the N.C. Department of Transportation and all Chatham County Schools buses now use a B20 blend.
The zoo was one of seven state and local agencies recently selected by the N.C. Solar Center, affiliated with N.C. State University, to receive grants to combat U.S. reliance on imported oil and improve transportation-related emissions.
The funding is from the State Energy Office which is encouraging increased use of alternative fuels to support energy security and economic development while reducing harmful emissions.