Biodiesel project is launched

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

A good-sized crowd gathered at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway rail yards in Havre at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to celebrate a unique partnership in the region — BNSF’s testing of locally made biodiesel to see how well it runs their locomotives.

BNSF is partnering with Montana State University-Northern’s biodiesel testing facility, Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester, Bear Paw Development Corp. and Opportunity Link Inc. to conduct extensive yearlong testing of biodiesel at its Havre facility.  The testing began July 1.

“This project, it’s a huge thing for us,” Kegel said during the Saturday kickoff celebration.

“It will give us some really good data to prove the fact that Montanagrown, Montana-produced biofuels really do work,” he added.

The impact of having Montana-grown and processed alternative fuel tested, in Montana, by a major railroad could be immense, he said.

BNSF is using two newly rebuilt locomotives in the test.  For a year, one will operate using a 20-percent biodiesel- diesel blend, using biodiesel manufactured by Earl Fisher Biofuels and certified by Northern’s Bio-Energy Innovation and Testing Center.

The other locomotive will use standard petroleum diesel.  The testing, to be conducted in the full range of Montana’s hot summers, freezing-cold winters, and other weather including wind, rain, hail and snow, will include The performance of the biodiesel and its impact on wear and tear on the engines and on emissions.

Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman, said in an interview that the railroad company is looking forward to seeing the results of the test.

“We are supportive of environmental initiatives to identify alternative fuel sources and opportunities to reduce emissions,” said Melonas, who could not attend the kickoff due to another commitment in Oregon.

Beau Price, superintendent of BNSF’s diesel shop in Havre, said the project is another example of the railroad’s partnership with Northern and other local organizations.

“I think it’s something we’re all excited about,” Price said.

“My people who are working for me are excited about it, and I think the community is excited to see this kind of relationship where we can do this kind of stuff.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the project could lead to major economic development in the region and in Montana in general.  He added that the project will benefit everyone by helping provide jobs, energy independence for the country and opportunities for people in a variety of industries.

“Any time we can get good research that will help create jobs, number one, and provide opportunity, that’s not all bad,” Tester said.  “In fact, that’s very, very good.” Kegel gave a lengthy list of thanks, including the state Department of Environmental Quality for helping set up the center’s testing facilities, Opportunity Link for helping the center secure funding , including a Montana Growth Through Agriculture Grant, Earl Fisher for its biodiesel production, and Tester for securing $2.5 million in federal funding for the testing center.

He also thanked Speaker of the House Bob Bergren, D-Havre, for adding $400,000 for the center to the state’s 2009 budget.

“If it wasn’t for Bob Bergren, we might not be here,” he said.

Barb Stiffarm, Opportunity Link's executive director, said her organization’s part is a continuing effort to partner with Northern in its biodiesel research.

The North Central Montana Transit public busing system has been using a 5-percent blend of Northern’s biodiesel for most of a year, and recently switched to a 20-percent blend in most of its buses.

Jim Lyons,transit system director, said after the presentations that that testing has gone well.

“It’s absolutely marvelous,” he said.  “We think we get better performance, more miles per gallon.” Stiffarm also thanked Verges Aageson of Gildford, a member of the board of Montana’s Growth through Agriculture program, for helping to secure the grant that helped get the BNSF test off the ground.

Logan Fisher, who operates Earl Fisher Biofuels with Brett Earl, said in an interview that the tests will give a nice boost to their business, especially in the normally slower winter months.  The hope is that the tests will lead to much more than that, he added.

“It could be a huge push for economic development in northcentral Montana,” he said.

The results of the testing could lead to many jobs in the region, including growing crops and processing fuel, as well as potentially providing a huge benefit for the environment, Tester said in an interview.

“It’s really a win-win-win deal,” he said.