GreenSpace | ‘Green Ships Initiative’ sets sail on Great Lakes

By Jacquee Thomas

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Dennis Donahue oversees research crews who monitor fish populations and water quality and quantity. Three research vessels cruise the Great Lakes from early March to late November.

"The least we can do on the lakes is not pollute them," says Donahue, operations manager for the Lake Michigan Field Station in Muskegon, Mich.

Donahue is also an integral part of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory "Green Ships Initiative," which started in 1999 with the goal to convert the Great Lakes research ships to using biodiesel fuel.


By May 2006, that goal was met. Not only were the research ships running on B-100 fuel, but also the ship systems were run by bio-hydraulic oils. B-100 fuel is 100 percent biodiesel, made from soybeans. B-20 is 20 percent biodiesel.

"A lot of resources use B-20," Donahue says, including large vehicles like school buses.

Hydraulic bio-oils may be made from rapeseed or canola oils. They are used on the ships’ steering hydraulics, on the winches, cranes and fish trawling devices.

The crews have to deal with any glitches. "They are cautious about how they operate their ships," Donahue says.

They agree that biofuels and oils have operational benefits, he says. Not only do the biosystems work well, but also the crew is not subjected to noxious fumes.

And, of course, they find solace in the fact that they are not hurting the Great Lakes environment they are studying.

The "Green Ship Initiative" includes the use of eco-friendly, citrus-based cleansers onboard, to assure that no hazardous chemicals are spilled into the waters.

"We were on wind and coal and wood up until World War II," Donahue says. "We went about 30-fold on other fuels since then."


With the "Green Ships Initiative," along with other environmentally friendly initiatives, farmers are happy, he says, including soybean and corn farmers who are suppliers for ethanol.

The "Green Ships Initiative" has won two awards, including the Earth Day 2006 "You Have the Power" honor from the United States Department of Energy, and the 2007 White House "Closing-the-Circle" green-purchasing award.

The initiative is a grassroots movement, Donahue says. Now the parent research organization, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is looking to follow suit.

"We need to do everything we can possibly do to help the environment," he says, "And then let our grandkids tell us if we did it right."

For more information on the "Green Ships Initiative," visit or call (734) 741-2393.

Greenspace is a weekly column on Tuesday’s Lifestyles cover.

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