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Lake may supply Jet Fuel

2008-09-25

With fuel prices threatening to surpass $4 a gallon, Jet Express is going green to help the environment and its bottom line.

Jet Express recently installed solar panels at its main facility in Port Clinton, but the company wants to go further and extend energy savings to its three catamarans, said Todd Blumensaadt, company vice president and co-owner.

The catamarans burn diesel fuel, but as early as next summer, they could start running on a combination of biodiesel and hydrogen -- an environmentally friendly fuel.

"Fuel's a very big expense, and we're trying to get a handle on it," Blumensaadt said. "All we're trying to do is become more friendly to the environment and be more conservative with fuel."

Jet Express and the Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line of Marblehead are working with the Put-in-Bay Port Authority to apply for a Ohio Department of Development grant that will fund the fuel switch.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is already using the mixture in one of its mini-buses.

"They're doing this in buses. There's no reason we can't do this in ferry boats," said Monica Drake, executive director of the Put-in-Bay Port Authority.

A Virginia company could also offer alternative energy in the form of Lake Erie's algae blooms.

SuGanit Systems Inc., in Reston, Va., could potentially process the pea-green algae, often toxic to fish and other wildlife, and create an alternative fuel source, Drake said.

The company's president is scheduling a visit this summer to evaluate the algae blooms.

"They already do it in a controlled environment," Drake said. "They're utilizing something that's occurring naturally that creates the alternative energy."

These alternative fuels are a better option than using up our food supply (i.e. corn-based ethanol), Drake said.

Blumensaadt said alternative fuel sources are becoming more attractive with rising fuel prices.

Last summer, the catamarans burned about $890,000 worth of diesel fuel, or 23 percent of their budget. Blumensaadt anticipates fuel costs will exceed more than $1 million this year.

To cushion the impact of rising costs, Jet Express implemented a 7-percent fuel surcharge on its ticket prices.

"If the bubble breaks and prices go down, we can adjust," said Lance Woodworth, Jet Express's director of operations. "I'd like to get rid of the whole (fuel surcharge), but with the fuel market it's hard to forecast this whole thing."

If the fuel switch is effective, that could mean better prices for Jet Express customers.

"The more we can cut it, the better prices we can give to our customers, and that's all we've been trying to do," Blumensaadt said. "We won't be increasing prices like everybody else has to."

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