Panel looks to mandate biodiesel usage in San Francisco

The City is looking at reconvening a task force to require gas stations that sell diesel fuel to switch to selling biodiesel. (Examiner file photo)


Gas stations selling diesel fuel in San Francisco could be forced to sell biodiesel instead, if a proposal floated by a city commission gains traction.

The City’s Biodiesel Access Task Force has discussed imposing a mandate that would require every diesel retailer to replace their regular diesel with B5, a biodiesel blend comprising 5 percent biodiesel — fuel made from plant oils and grease — and 95 percent regular diesel fuel. Such fuel can be used by diesel engines without any special conversion.

The B5 mandate, which would require local biodiesel to be used, would be modeled after a similar program currently in effect in Oregon.

The task force, made up largely of local biodiesel advocates and industry executives — some of whom could benefit from such a mandate — discussed the proposal in December. That was the last meeting of the task force, which was scheduled to sunset that month. But Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is drafting legislation to rename and revive the task force.

Task force member Ben Jordan said that if the task force is revived, pushing forward the proposed mandate would be one of its highest priorities.

“When we do reconvene, we’re interested in continuing to develop this idea,” Jordan said. “We have an example in Portland, and from what we understand it’s been a win-win-win for everybody.”

Jordan hopes that somewhere down the road, the proposed B5 requirement could be changed to mandate the use of B20 — a separate fuel blend containing 20 percent biodiesel.

The biodiesel task force was initially created in 2006 by legislation from Supervisor Jake McGoldrick with the goal of improving public access to the alternative energy. In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that The City’s entire fleet had been converted to run on B20, but as of December, less than half the fleet ran on that fuel.

Mirkarimi said he doesn’t yet have an opinion about the proposed mandate. He said that’s a reason the task force should continue forward.

“The task force reached its natural sunset, but there’s more work that needs to be done,” he said.

No one on Mayor Ed Lee’s staff is working on such a citywide B5 mandate, his spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.

“We are open to looking into ideas that would help the city reduce its carbon emissions, but our first priority is to make sure our own city fleet is compliant,” Falvey said in an e-mail.

Because the idea is still in its infancy, gas station manager Johnny Wong said he had not yet heard about it, and didn’t have a formed opinion. His station, Precise Chevron on 19th Avenue, receives its fuel from Chevron corporation.

“For now I’m just a skeptic,” he said. “I guess it depends on the price we can get for biodiesel. If the price of that kind of fuel is too much it means we would have to charge more, and it might drive customers away.”

 Is new fuel clogging Muni bus air filters?

 Shortly after Muni converted all its diesel buses to biodiesel, it began having problems with air filters getting gummed up.

Correlation is not causation, cautioned Muni spokesman Paul Rose, but he said the agency is now investigating whether the biodiesel could be responsible for the problems.

The problem began in 2007, around the same time that Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an edict requiring the entire city fleet to be converted to the biodiesel blend B20.

The problem has persisted since then, causing some Muni mechanics and engineers to wonder whether their buses may not be taking to the fuel change. In the meantime, because of infrastructure and tank problems, less than half of the fleet is running on the B20 fuel.

Neither the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission nor the San Francisco Department of Public Works have experienced any problems with the biodiesel, representatives of those agencies said.

“Besides the occasional smell of fries from our vehicles, we have not really experienced any problems with using biodiesel,” SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said.

What is biodiesel?

The fuel is an alternate to petroleum diesel that can be used in compression-ignition engines. It is made from plant oils and grease. While some vehicles can run on 100 percent biodiesel, various biodiesel blends are much more common:

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