Letter: Biodiesel is Immediate Solution to Detroit Air Quality Woes

By Maggie Striz Calnin, Raquel Garcia and Hanna Campbell

The recent Crain’s Detroit Business article, “Metro Detroit air quality improving in some ways, but room to get better” cited the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report. This report shows that Detroit continues to rank among the most polluted cities in America.

We agree there is much room for improvement in the region’s air quality.  

Since diesel-powered vehicles are a major source of air pollution, the Detroit metro area can immediately improve air quality through expanded use of cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel reduces particulate matter by 49% and hydrocarbons by 67% compared to petroleum diesel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Biodiesel can effectively fuel city and school buses, truck fleets, fire engines, construction equipment and other diesel-powered vehicles – as well as maritime vessels that are difficult to electrify. The Detroit Department of Transportation already uses biodiesel as part of their clean fleet strategy, helping to significantly cut tailpipe emissions from its equipment.

It is simple for fleets to make the switch to biodiesel. Fuel blends containing up to 20% biodiesel (B20) require no engine modifications and perform the same as diesel. There is no need to invest in new vehicles or infrastructure to use biodiesel.

A 2022 report from Trinity Consultants showed a potential annual health benefit of $53 million if diesel vehicles operating in Detroit switched from petroleum diesel to B20 biodiesel – and $267 million if they switched to B100, or 100% biodiesel. Potential health costs savings included reduced asthma treatments, fewer emergency room visits, and less work loss days. Trinity Consultants is a leading global environmental health and safety firm based in Dallas. The report was commissioned by Clean Fuels Alliance America.

The American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report is another reminder that Detroiters can’t wait for solutions. Kids are missing school due to illness, COVID was worse here, birth outcomes are threatened and people’s daily lives are a struggle due to sleep apnea – all linked to air pollution from diesel emissions. We need a serious effort to increase clean fuel use in our area.

We urge diesel vehicle operators, municipalities and commercial fleets to adopt biodiesel for an immediate positive impact on Detroit air quality and quality of life.

Maggie Striz Calnin is Director of Michigan Clean Cities, part of a network of nearly 90 coalitions through the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Initiative. Raquel Garcia is Executive Director of Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, which connects residents to local environmental policies that impact their health and the health of their neighborhoods. Hanna Campbell is Demand Specialist for Michigan Advanced Biofuels Coalition, which helps support energy security and improve air and environmental quality in Michigan.

Originally shared by Crain’s Detroit Business, June 21, 2023.

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