Frank Giordano had to work through more than just technical obstacles when the Clark County School District started using biodiesel fuel for school buses in 2001. Every time a bus was disabled on the side of the road with a flat tire, biodiesel got the blame. Bus drivers joked they were running on french fry oil.
"I had a driver who broke down call me and say there must be a chicken bone stuck in the fuel line," the CCSD transportation director said Tuesday at the 2013 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo at The Mirage. "There's a lot of myths out there, but I've never lost an engine to biodiesel."
Several Las Vegas vehicle fleets were among the nation's first biodiesel users, including the school district, water district and the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.
Biodiesel - made from used cooking grease, soybean oil, rendered fats and other renewable resources - will replace more than 1.3 billion gallons of diesel fuel this year.
Biodiesel of Las Vegas, founded in 2004, has been a pioneer in that production in the Southwest. The company opened a new production plant in North Las Vegas in June, with annual capacity of 4 million gallons. It has 24 full-time employees.
Clark County School District uses biodiesel in 1,500 school buses and 500 other diesel vehicles, Giordano said. The buses have logged more than 250 million miles and offset fuel consumption by 5 million gallons, he said.
Dan Hyde, a retired city of Las Vegas transportation manager, also talked about the early days of biodiesel use. He said the Nevada Department of Transportation invited fleet managers to an impressive demonstration that turned into a business model for a contract with Haycock Petroleum.
"The bad news is that I had to deal with the city and convince (former Mayor) Oscar Goodman this was a good investment or I'd get whacked, in Oscar's words," Hyde quipped. "When I explained we were developing a new business model that puts Vegas on the map for something other than glitz and glitter, Oscar said, 'It's going to work, right? It better.' "
Biodiesel has been a highlight of the Environmental Protection Agency's Renewable Fuel Standard, a policy that requires minimum quantities of renewable fuel to be blended into the nation's fuel supply.
Biodiesel sales jumped from 20 million gallons in 2004 to 500 million gallons in 2007 and 1 billion gallons in 2010.
The industry's goal is to make biodiesel 5 percent of the nation's diesel fuel volume by 2015 and 10 percent by 2022, National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe said.
The National Biodiesel Board is celebrating its 20th anniversary and 10th annual conference and expo. It's the first to be held in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas residents can attend the show free today with a valid local ID. Show hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is the featured speaker and will discuss the future of the biodiesel industry.