Biodiesel keeps most popular national park clean

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Biodiesel is helping improve air quality in the US’ most visited national park

Visited by more than 11 million people each year (according to National Geographic), Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is a sight of spectacular natural beauty, one which actively works to reduce its environmental footprint.

“At Great Smoky Mountains National Park we have implemented a comprehensive strategy to limit our environmental impact and reduce carbon emissions,” Brian Bergsma, deputy chief of facility management, has told the US National Biodiesel Board (NBB). “Biodiesel and Bioheat are front and center in that effort.”

In 2016 the park used 43,085 gallons of biodiesel (B20), which resulted in a 15% reduction in carbon dioxide, a 12% reduction in carbon monoxide, a 20% reduction in both hydrocarbon and sulphur dioxide, and a 12% reduction in particulate matter, according to the NBB's Emissions Calculator.

The park first started using biodiesel blends to power park owned vehicles and equipment in 2003, and the fuel has been used widely around the park since 2006. Now, B20 is used to power 40 pieces of equipment at locations throughout the national park.

Bioheat is used to heat the park’s headquarters.

"Because the southern Appalachians are downwind of many urban areas, industrial sites, and power plants in the eastern U.S., the Smokies’ air resources have been significantly degraded by nitrogen and sulfur air pollutants, impacting human health, visitor enjoyment, and ecosystems,” according to Jim Renfro, the park's air quality specialist.  “As a result, park staff have an opportunity to educate and demonstrate to the public ways that their actions can help reduce emissions and improve air quality, both at the park and in their own communities.”

“We constantly strive to demonstrate and incorporate technologies that will result in cleaner air,” said Bergsma. “This includes alternative fuels, electric vehicles and charging stations, photovoltaic systems, and greener building construction.”

In an NBB press release, Bergsma explains how biodiesel has served the park reliably for a number of years: “We’ve used biodiesel blends consistently since 2006 and have had little to no problems.  Great Smoky Mountains’ biodiesel is made from used fryer grease and soybean oil and we are happy to utilise this fuel source to reduce our impacts on the environment, landfills, etc.”

The trolley systems in the neighboring towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn. also use B20. Gatlinburg's trolley fleet is the fifth-largest mass transit system in the state and has grown to 20-plus trolleys servicing approximately 50 miles of trolley routes.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park