Local Advancement in Renewable Energies

By Amber Pope

Staff Writer

Politicians have made a lot of bold statements in this past year concerning petroleum usage. Claims have been made again and again that in x amount of years, Americans will be “free from our dependence on foreign oil.” Such statements may seem ludicrous, but loosening the tie to oil is within the realm of possibility, and in this part of the state it is already being made a reality. This change is not one filtered down from Washington DC, but rather from the cooperative efforts of groups of people within this area who have made it their goal to create and promote sustainable types of energy.

Most recently, and publicly, Haywood Community College received a $135,000 grant from the Biofuels Center of NC to begin a biodiesel production and training project. The goal is to both train students and members of the community to make their own fuel and to produce enough biodiesel to run campus and county vehicles. The fuel will be made through the refinement of waste vegetable-based cooking oils from Haywood County Schools, and possibly other resources. The end yield of this is a type of energy that burns more cleanly, is cost-effective and does not rely on an unsustainable resource.

Noting the environmental progress that is taking place on Haywood’s campus, many Western Carolina students wanted to know what our campus is doing to decrease dependency on petroleum.

Petroleum displacement has been a major concern for Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, since accepting her position with the university. In an interview with Western Carolinian staff, she explained that petroleum reduction is not only good practice, but state mandate. Section Law 2005-276 states that “All State agencies, universities, and community colleges with State-owned vehicle fleets shall develop and implement plans to achieve a 20% reduction or displacement of the current petroleum products consumed by January 1, 2010.” This law went into effect in 2005. The first year, Western cut petroleum usage by 4%. The second year this had increased to 7%. This past year, we have reduced petroleum usage by an outstanding 23%-WCU has already met and exceeded the state requirement two years before the mandated deadline.

Biofuels have already been implemented to reach this goal. All campus vehicles that use diesel fuel now run on B20, a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum. In older vehicles, a stronger concentration of biodiesel can cause rubber hosing to deteriorate, while in newer vehicles hosing is synthetic. The B20 mixture has proven more feasible because it can be used in all diesel vehicles on campus. Decreased emissions, longer life expectancy in engines, and higher mileage have all resulted from the integration of B20. The biodiesel is purchased from a local company called Blue Ridge Biofuels, based in Asheville. All gas-fueled vehicles on campus have been switched to E10, a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Western also expanded its fleet this past year with the addition of four electric-powered vehicles. These vehicles are used on roads with speed limits below 35mph and are efficient for on-campus work.

As for an opportunity for students to learn about the production of biofuels, such as the program at Haywood, Lauren Bishop said that no details could be released yet, but a program for WCU students is in the works. A few other upcoming sustainability projects include a Green Living guide, that will soon be available to Residence Halls, and the employment of a full-time recycling coordinator. 120 new recycling bins have also been purchased for placement around campus. Bishop would also like students to be aware of the Ride Board, which is now accessible through MyCat. Students, faculty, and staff can offer and request rides through the Ride Board at http:/www.wcu.edu/studenthomepage/rideboard/.