Biodiesel Pioneer Embraces Additional Biobased Products
Joe Biluck has never been afraid to try something new. As director of operations and technology for Medford Township Public Schools, in Medford, New Jersey, he implemented sustainable practices long before it became the trend.
1997 After Biluck conducted extensive research and gained the support of his school district, Medford is the first school district in the country to use biodiesel. They continue to use biodiesel in their school bus fleet today.
2005 Medford receives the National Biodiesel Board’s “Eye on Biodiesel” award in the “Inspiration” category and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute’s “National Clean Bus Leadership Award.”
2007 U.S. Department of Energy National Clean Cities program names Medford “Alternative Energy Pioneer” and the school receives the New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence award in the “Environmental Leadership” category.
Looking to build on his success with biodiesel and the other sustainability initiatives he champions, Biluck turned to biobased products. About two years ago, he participated in a USB-sponsored biobased product demonstration project through which he tried a number of soy-based cleaning products and lubricants. Biluck was so pleased with the performance and environmental benefits of the products he pursued additional opportunities to integrate biobased products into his school district.
Here is what he has to say:
Q: Why did you first decide to give biobased products a try?
A: Two reasons actually, one was for a specific problem and another for a broader approach.
First, we were experiencing an issue with an emission control system on a particular diesel engine, and I needed a solution.
Second, given our work in sustainability and biofuels, it was a natural progression for me to evaluate the performance of these new products. My work over the years with the United Soybean Board has exposed me to a number of innovative goods and materials. Recently, I participated in their biobased workshops. These events placed me in direct contact with businesses that offer products manufactured to solve specific problems we deal with such as one relative to emission systems. I also learned about products that claimed to perform as well or better than the petroleum counterparts. Looking to reduce the level of exposure of my staff to hazardous materials, I was curious as to whether the biobased products performed as marketed. So, I wanted to gain further experience.
Q: What do you see as the benefits of biobased products?
A: One of the primary benefits is helping to create American jobs. Expanding market opportunities in the agricultural sector is vital. Another is minimizing risk. It is my responsibility to reduce the exposure levels of my staff and the building occupants to potentially toxic and harmful substances. The use of biobased products will help me satisfy this obligation. Finally, I’m always on the lookout for products made in America that can perform equally or better than their synthetic counterpart.
Q: How do they perform compared to the petroleum-based products you had been using?
A: The result of our pilot showed that the tested products performed as well as or better than products I’ve used for many years. For example, our mechanics reported that the biobased hand cleaner removed the grease and dirt but did not dry out their skin like the former product. The white board cleaner I tested performed exceptionally well. The penetrating lubricant performed equally as well and did not flare when torches were used.
Q: How does using biobased products complement your other sustainability initiatives?
A: For many years, our district has been successful in the implementation of a number of sustainable strategies. This approach has saved hundreds of thousands of utility dollars, improved our environment, and significantly reduced our energy use. One of the tenets of sustainability is to create a healthier environment for the building occupants and the staff maintaining that facility. This is even more critical in schools occupied by small children. The use of biobased products is consistent with that sustainable goal in that their use reduces and/or eliminates the presence of volatile organiccompounds (VOC’s) in our schools.
Q: What types of biobased products are you using now?
A: We use spray lubricants, hand cleaner, drain and septic treatment, mold and mildew remover, carpet shampoo, white board restorer, all-purpose cleaner, motor oil, parking lot striping paint, and truck/bus wash. Last fall, our students were the first in the nation to walk into a school with the soy-backed Yellowstone Collection carpet.
Q: What would you tell others who are looking to incorporate the use of biobased products in their facilities?
A: One of the most rewarding aspects of approaching my work through the lens of sustainability, and there are many, is conducting business knowing that we are not contributing to the “problem.” We are finding ways to provide our students with a high-quality education, while at the same time, diminishing our impact on the environment, reallocating excess utility funds back into instruction, and lessening the hazardous impact to those who use and maintain our fleet and facilities. I encourage others to seek information about biobased products. Learn how these materials perform and how they will enhance their service operations. Test and evaluate the long-term benefits these products offer.
Q: How do you see integrating student education with the use of biobased products?A: One of our major goals is to take what we’ve done with our facilities and weave it into the tapestry of classroom instruction. There are so many opportunities to use our buildings, systems, and products as practical learning labs. We’re beginning to develop methods to incorporate a number of these opportunities. Showing students how to solve problems is far more critical than memorizing and regurgitating basic facts. For example, we hope to demonstrate that the use of biobased products is an important component in an overall strategy to reduce asthma triggers in schools. Like the slogan for the American Lung Association says, “If you can’t breathe, nothing else really matters.” We could enlist the students help in the evaluation process of the biobased products to monitor performance. Their research could include how the product is made (science), where it’s made (social studies), and understanding the ratios of constituent components (math).