The city will continue testing biofuels as a way to heat municipal buildings in a bid community leaders hope will lead to a cleaner and cheaper alternative to heating oil for residents.

The Board of Estimates approved an agreement to spend up to $1.32 million for a second phase of burn tests in three city structures: Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, Eastern Health Center and the Pimlico Fire and Police Training Facility.

During the evaluations, about 440,000 gallons of biofuel produced by the New Generation Biofuels Co. will be filtered into the buildings’ boilers over a one-year period.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said a successful test-run could prompt the city to phase in the cleaner heating agent in all Baltimore buildings. It is a “step towards becoming a more energy efficient and sustainable city,” she said in a statement.
City structures are now heated with petroleum-based heating oil, a highly combustible and a relatively hazardous pollutant, said Mike Cook, energy chief for the city’s General Services Department.

The biofuel—made from plants, vegetables and soybeans—is a cleaner heating alternative and will help “reduce our country’s dependence on oil,” Cook said.
And it is no more expensive than heating oil, he noted. Biofuel produces 70 percent the heat of oil when burned, but costs 30 percent less.

The first phase of tests, which began in 2009, revealed that the thick, whitish biofuel emits 40-60 percent less nitrogen oxide and over 90 percent less sulfur oxide compared to traditional heating methods, the city reported.

These final tests will determine the long-term impact of renewable fuel in the city’s aging and varying boilers. Cook says evaluations should begin sometime this month.

City school officials are also conducting separate tests of the biofuel in Franklin Square Elementary and Woodhome Elementary.
“This is a big plus,” said Leon Purnell, member of the Environmental Justice Partnership, a community group that advocates for cleaner city buildings and waste facilities.

Purnell said he hopes the sustainable heating plans incite the city to offer incentives or price reductions for residents to use the renewable fuel in their homes.
“If it proves feasible for (the city), then they will pass it on, hopefully,” he said.
The city’s “clean, green” streak should prompt officials to reevaluate the harmful chemicals that refineries often leak into surrounding residential areas, the advocate added. Many are located in low-income Black neighborhoods.

The city recently launched a sustainability plan to reduce 15 percent of its energy use by 2015. City officials say the power plant installed in the Back River Treatment Plant, the LED-certified traffic lights throughout Baltimore, fire department energy reductions and other initiatives will surpass their plan and lead to a 30 percent reduction in the city’s energy use by 2020.


Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO