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Bronco Biodiesel will fuel Kalamazoo buses

Oct. 19, 2006

KALAMAZOO--Kalamazoo citizens could breath cleaner air, ride more efficient public transit and see their tax dollars stretched further, as city buses begin using a Western Michigan University fuel product generated from one of the least-used sources of biodiesel--waste grease from restaurants.

The City of Kalamazoo announced Oct. 13 it will begin piloting Bronco Biodieesl in Metro Transit buses. Bronco Biodiesel is the brainchild of a group of WMU faculty members, who secured development funds earlier this year through the President's Innovation Fund. They will produce as much as 100,000 gallons of the product by recycling restaurant trap grease through a facility at the Kalamazoo Wastewater Reclamation Plant. Bronco Biodiesel is expected to be in full production in the spring.

The move could make Kalamazoo the first community in the continental United States to use trap grease as a fuel source and could establish a model for alternative energy use and university/community cooperation that other cities can emulate. The city expects to begin using the fuel in about a quarter of its 20-bus fleet early in 2007.

"This is a model of biodiesel production that could be exported to any municipality," says Dr. Steve Bertman, WMU professor of chemistry and co-director of Bronco Biodiesel. "This is an effort that's complementary, not competitive with other biodiesel production. We're using trap grease, a source for fuel currently not being used. Right now, those are BTUs down the drain--literally."

Biodiesel, a proven renewable fuel, can be made from any fat or oil. It burns more completely than petroleum diesel, emits fewer noxious by-products and significantly lowers greenhouse gas production. Its superior lubricity can reduce engine maintenance costs, and it is safer to use and transport.

Bronco Biodiesel will make fuel for city fleets from trap grease, a substance that accumulates under commercial kitchen sinks. If commercial traps are not properly maintained, they discharge grease into city sewer lines, where a messy accumulation becomes a costly problem for city maintenance workers.

"Brewing biodiesel from such waste could have a positive effect on city sewer and water rates, by preventing costly maintenance and clean-up problems," says Dr. Sarah Hill, WMU professor of anthropology who also is a project co-director. "What's now a headache for the city is an opportunity for Bronco Biodiesel."

Dr. John Miller, WMU associate professor of chemistry is the third project director for the initiative. He says the city/university partnership will put Kalamazoo ahead of the game in building a sustainable urban environment,

"We're using a simple, low-tech process to make a biodiesel product that meets all the quality standards that exist for such fuels," says Miller. "We think using biodiesel widely is inevitable, and this is the kind of effort that will serve as a national model. We're delighted with the support the city is showing."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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