Green Fleet

Produce Company Experiments With Alt-Fuel Options

May 2017, Business Fleet - Feature

by Amy Winter-Hercher - Also by this author

Testa Produce has 24 straight trucks in its delivery fleet running on CNG. Photo courtesy of Testa Produce
Testa Produce has 24 straight trucks in its delivery fleet running on CNG. Photo courtesy of Testa Produce

When Peter Testa wanted to go green at his produce company, he wanted environmentally friendly objectives to be reflected in all aspects of the business, including its fleet vehicles.

“As a produce company, we’re naturally a green company,” says Testa, owner of Testa Produce Inc., a Chicago-based company that has been supplying produce for more than 100 years. “So, using renewable energy and environmentally friendly fuels, it all kind of fits together.”

Partnering with Chicago Area Clean Cities (CACC), Testa has been in the process of switching the fleet of diesel straight trucks to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The trucks deliver produce to restaurants, hotels, hospitals, country clubs, sports venues, and catering services.

Out of 42 straight trucks, 24 of them run on CNG — with two additional CNG trucks coming in the next few weeks. Each 24-foot refrigerated truck travels 50 to 100 miles per day delivering to customers in Illinois, parts of Wisconsin, and Northwest Indiana.

“The CNG trucks pair nicely with Peter’s vision for the company to be green and cutting edge,” says Claire Cameron, Testa’s facility and quality assurance manager. “He wanted our company to have as little a carbon footprint as possible.”

Located in Chicago, Testa’s facility earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification. The $24-million, 91,300-square-foot facility features a wind turbine, solar panels, and a green roof that collects rainwater. If it’s a sunny and windy day, the solar panels and wind turbine can actually take the building’s energy use off the grid, says Cameron.

The company’s environmental initiatives have lowered costs by 10% to 15% each year, according to Testa.

Testing Options

Before implementing CNG trucks, Testa’s delivery truck fleet ran on diesel and biodiesel (B20). When looking to switch to a fuel option to lower the company’s carbon footprint, Testa first decided to try battery-powered trucks. Unfortunately, they didn’t work well for the company’s delivery fleet.

“With the cold weather and the weight we put on each truck, the battery power didn’t last like we needed it to,” says Cameron.

Then a program by CACC sparked Testa’s interest in CNG vehicles. Clean Cities helped Testa apply for some grants to help offset the cost of purchasing the CNG-powered trucks.

“The CNG trucks are approximately $40,000 more expensive than the diesel/biodiesel trucks,” she says. “The grant money covers 50% of the incremental cost to purchase the CNGs.”

So far, the CNG trucks have been running as well if not better than the diesels, according to Cameron.
The CNG has been especially beneficial in the winter months. In the early morning, the diesel trucks have a hard time starting — the biodiesel/diesel fuel can gel in extremely cold weather. But the CNG isn’t affected by the cold.

Testa has been able to secure a lower CNG price through relationships with local fueling stations and fueling companies. Although biodiesel/diesel prices have been lower — the price differential between CNG and biodiesel/diesel has been minimized recently — Testa knows that diesel prices will go up again, according to Cameron.

Leasing to Owning

A majority of Testa’s truck fleet (International and Freightliner straight trucks) is leased through two leasing companies. As Testa has acquired more CNG-powered trucks, the company has started to buy the trucks once they come off lease instead of extending the leases.

Currently, Testa has 10 leased CNG trucks, 14 owned CNG trucks, and four owned CNG day cab tractors.

Testa has been acquiring the CNG-powered trucks from a Freightliner dealership in Milwaukee; the trucks are already converted to CNG when they arrive at the Testa facility, according to Cameron.

After purchasing the trucks, Testa works with a body shop to build the boxes and then a Carrier dealer installs the refrigeration (“reefer”) units.

“The goal is to have the entire fleet run on CNG if the trucks continue to perform like they have over the last few years,” Cameron says.

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