The new fuel

âÄúThe driver says move on back, the wipers go swish swish swish, the horn goes beep beep beep and the money on the bus goes clink clink clink.âÄù We all know the song from childhood, and weâÄôve all gone chasing after a bus thatâÄôs pulling away at least once in our lives. Whether we made a habit of chasing buses as children late for school or weâÄôre sprinting after them as adults still late for school, their turning wheels are never an unfamiliar sight or experience. As we accelerate our speed toward finals and the end of the semester, the University of Minnesota announced last week that it attained 16 new buses for the Campus Connector Circuit. The buses will have an extra door to aid in smoother loading and unloading of passengers and push buttons to open doors, keeping students from getting caught in the door flaps that are perpetually opening and closing. It was even added that one of the buses was a coveted hybrid it received from Metro Transit, boasting it to be better for âÄústudents and the environment.âÄù The hybrid trend, of course, is not radical or breaking news. As hybrid vehicles have swept the nation, major transportation systems âÄî including ours in Minneapolis âÄî have joined the bandwagon. According to its website, Metro Transit hopes for 20 percent of its fleet to be hybrid electric by 2012. Its website notes that hybrids have âÄú90 percent fewer emissions and a 22 percent better fuel economyâÄù than traditional gasoline powered vehicles. While this may be true, there remains a concern for both the drivers and riders of these gas/electric hybrids. The trouble is with electromagnetic fields (EMFs), a byproduct of electricity. According to an article published in The New York Times in April, âÄúThere is a legitimate scientific reason for raising the issue. The flow of electrical current to the motor that moves a hybrid vehicle at low speeds (and assists the gasoline engine on the highway) produces magnetic fields, which some studies have associated with serious health matters, including a possible risk of leukemia among children.âÄù The article goes on to note that drivers are merited in their concern of EMFs. Though all of our electronics from hair dryers to computers emit EMFs, there is no general agreement or federal standard that denotes a standard for safe exposure of EMFs. Again according to the Times, âÄúTheir concern is not without merit; agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge the potential hazards of long-term exposure to a strong [EMF] and have done studies on the association of cancer risks with living near high-voltage utility lines.âÄù While some drivers claim hybrids make them ill âÄî some have seen a rise in blood pressure and sleepiness at the wheel. Many drivers have tested the EMF readings on their own cars, but the trouble is that the cheaper meters many motorists are using do not perform at the standard of a factory test. Bottom line? The jury is still out on the case, which means the hype of hybrid buses might not be the best solution to promote. What is worth noting, however, is the latest trend in clean fuel: Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). Now, before you call me crazy, know that this isnâÄôt the black belching fuel from the âÄô70s. When the fuel became popular four decades ago, it was appealing because of this 50 miles per gallon status. But we, of course, compromised our environment for a better fuel economy. But thatâÄôs not so today. According to Popular Mechanics last January, clean diesel offers an ever better fuel economy of 74.3 miles per gallon, and the new diesel engines combined with ULSD actually produce fewer greenhouse gasses than most hybrids. So what does that mean? Happy manufacturers, happy drivers and a fuel that is 98 percent cleaner. With a ration of 15 parts per million versus a typical 500 parts per million in sulfur, ULSD means less sulfur pollution and fewer Nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere. Transitively, with less sulfur in the atmosphere, there is less opportunity for the sulfur to combine with water and produce sulfuric acid. Simply put, less sulfuric acid means less acid rain. According to CNN Money, the efficiency rate of automobiles rises to 35 percent from 12 percent, which means less money spent at the pump. While the fuel may cost more than regular unleaded gasoline on any given day, remember that it goes a long way. The new fuel became available in the United States on Oct. 15, and automobile manufacturers from BMW to Ford are just beginning to market the new engines. But it looks to me that the hype for hybrid shouldnâÄôt be so special, and we should be looking for a new kind of high with ULSD fuel in our buses and cars. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]