Tucson Q&A with Colleen Crowninshield, Clean Cities coordinator

T Q&A 

As the Clean Cities coordinator for the Pima Association of Governments, Colleen Crowninshield is promoting various alternative fuel options, including the use of biodiesel. She is currently behind the wheel of a sleek 2002 Honda Civic that runs solely on compressed natural gas. If you'd like to take her car for spin or have her visit your workplace, give her a ring at 792-1093, ext. 426. For more information on alternative fuels and the local Clean Cities effort, visit the environmental planning section at pagnet.org.

Tell me a little about biodiesel.

Biodiesel can be made two ways. It can be made from pure soy or reclaimed vegetable oil. It can be put in any diesel engine with no conversion to the engine needed.

Tell me about our new biodiesel station.

It's in Oracle, located on American Avenue, which is the main street in Oracle, and it dispenses B100. That means it's 100 percent biodiesel. We also have a station at 22nd Street and Cherry Avenue. It dispenses B20.

What's a B20 blend?

B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petro-diesel.

What's the advantage of biodiesel?

The advantage of any blend of biodiesel is a reduction in particulate matter out of the tailpipe. What we tell people, especially with a B20 blend, is where you will visibly see the benefit is from the plume of that diesel engine--that big black puff of smoke that comes out of a diesel engine is reduced greatly. I can't give you an exact amount, but it's approximately 70 percent.

So if you're driving a car that runs on diesel fuel now, you can just start using biodiesel?

Yes, you can. The thing you want to be careful of, though, is that biodiesel acts as a cleaning agent, so it will strip your tank clean. All that particulate and all of the little particles that are in your tank can go into your fuel filters. So for the first couple of months, you have to keep a real good eye on your fuel filters.

How much is this biodiesel catching on around the country?

Back east, biodiesel is widely known and has been used tremendously for many, many years. Especially over the last couple of years, we've noticed a real influx of winter visitors calling us to ask us, "Do you have biodiesel? Is there a place for us to fuel?" The reason is that it's quieter in the engine. When you have to keep a big RV running all night, that makes a difference.

You're driving a 2002 Honda Civic that runs exclusively on compressed natural gas. Where do you fill something like that up?

Right now in Tucson, we have one station open to the public. To me, that has been the biggest deterrent to this taking off. It's out by the airport.

So it's a bit of a drive for many Tucsonans.

It's a bit of a drive, but since I do a lot of work out there anyway, I just plan my trips to be able to fuel while I'm out there. But there's something called a fuel maker, which can be purchased and put right at home. If you have a natural gas line at home, you can tap right into that and fuel that vehicle overnight.

Was this something you were able to buy directly from the dealership?

This particular vehicle belongs to American Honda. They have loaned it to me so I can show the vehicle out. I've taken it out to many areas. Raytheon Missile Systems has looked at it. So has the city of Tucson, and even some of the mom-and-pop flower shops.

Well, that's a nice deal for you. What does something like this run the average consumer, in terms of costing more?

The incremental cost is about $2,000. What you would normally pay for a 2002 Honda Civic off the lot runs about $18,999. So this particular vehicle runs about $21,000.

That's not much more money for the compressed natural gas system.

It's not that much more. And there is a $1,500 federal tax incentive that you take as a deduction for purchasing a dedicated clean fuel vehicle. There's also a reduction in the cost to register that vehicle.

How far can you go on one tank of the compressed natural gas?

It depends on whether it's winter or summer, but right now, I'm getting about 150 miles out of one tank.

And one tank will cost you how much?

About $8.50.

That's an awfully good deal.

I think so. To me, it's a no-brainer. This particular vehicle has been deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency as the cleanest internal combustion vehicle on the planet.

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