Auto and passenger ferries operated by the Washington State Transportation Department shuttle more than 11 million people across the Puget Sound every year. Now, the electric-diesel engines that propel these vessels are powered by a blend of soy-based biodiesel and petroleum diesel. | Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel.
Washington State Ferries, owned and operated by the state transportation department, is the largest ferry service in the United States and third largest in the world. Twenty-two ferries transport 11 million passengers from the mainland and larger islands across the Puget Sound each year at a cost of 18 million gallons of diesel fuel.
In 2009, Washington’s transportation department concluded a five-year pilot program that determined biodiesel fuel blends -- soy-based biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel -- to be a viable fuel source for normal operations in any weather condition. Today, thanks to a $165,000 Recovery Act loan through the State Energy Program, the ferries run on a blended biodiesel fuel that will prevent over 65 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the environment each year.
The pilot program proved the viability of the fuel, but there was still a kink in the biodiesel supply chain. Traditionally, the blending process needs to be performed in a specialized facility and then transported to customers, which is costly in time and resources. Instead, biodiesel producer Whole Energy Corporation installed a system with the State Energy Program loan to blend biodiesel with petroleum-based diesel on distribution trucks.
Using this method, the corporation has been able to deliver this biofuel blend to its customers at a competitive rate and keep the state-owned ferry service afloat with locally blended biofuel. Since making the cost-competitive upgrade, Whole Energy has also expanded its customer base to other ferry lines serving Puget Sound communities and also the Army Corps of Engineers.
The state of Washington is advancing its efforts toward clean energy and is now the largest public consumer of biodiesel in the country.