This week, many people were ranting about the state’s decision to delay the opening of schools because of cold weather. Without going on about how when I was a boy I walked 7 miles to school in the snow barefoot, uphill both ways, I will say it was a first for me to see schools delayed without any serious inclement weather to justify it. Here in North Carolina we are generally not prepared for really bad ice and snow, so schools and businesses close down when the weather turns to wintery precipitation. But this time, there was no frozen water involved. So why did the schools delay just because it was cold?
Well, the obvious answer is lawyers, but really it was partially safety, and partially because of the fear of biodiesel. At least that’s my suspicion. The temperatures dropped down to 8 or 9 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, rising to about 14 degrees by the time the delayed start took effect. At 7AM, it was 9 degrees, at 9AM it was 14. Not a big difference.
As for safety, it’s fairly obvious. We’re in winter months where it’s dark early in the morning, some schools start as early as 7:30, so with visibility low, and the likelihood that visibility problems would be compounded by windows would be frosted over, they didn’t want kids waiting for school buses to get hit. Add to that you’d be freezing your butt off in the cold waiting for the bus, which is likely to be running late because of the weather, and there you go.
The second reason is because of the use, or perhaps misuse, of biodiesel in school buses in this state. North Carolina mandates that school systems must use a B20 blend of biodiesel, if available, in all school buses in the state.
The B20 biodiesel market in North Carolina is small. Many counties don’t use it at all, for various reasons. But the ones that do could have seen some fuel gelling if their biodiesel vendor didn’t take precautions to use proper additives for winterizing. And even though there are fair margins in selling B20 to the state, most if not all of it comes from out of state. It is (supposedly) virgin soy biodiesel that meets the (supposedly) stringent BQ9000 certification requirements. This does not mean it has good low temperature stability, or that it has anti-gel added to it to enhance that.
Biodiesel cold weather performance is a function of the feedstock (canola is better), and the quality and quantity of anti-gel additives in it. I’ve seen good soy biodiesel with bad anti-gel turn into a slushy at 35F. I’ve also seen our WVO biodiesel with good anti-gel stay liquid down to under 15F.
Anyway, my guess is the school administration was worried about school buses not starting in the morning or being stranded in the cold because of “bad” fuel. Wanting to avoid bad press and potential lawsuits, they just delay school. Problem is, the temperature really didn’t come up that much in two hours. Oh well, at least it was daylight.