Green Operations

Proven Petroleum Reduction Strategies: Part II

May 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Barbara Bonansinga

Fleets frequently have help identifying and advancing their environmental and cost-efficiency goals. In Illinois, one such facilitator is the state Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) with its Illinois Green Fleets Program. With a motto of “Green Environment, Green Energy, and Green Economics for a Green Illinois,” the program has supported fleets utilizing a number of different approaches to reach their environmental goals.

The Illinois Green Fleets Program works to promote the achievements of fleets in the state that stand out from their peers in “greening” their fleet operations.
The Illinois Green Fleets Program works to promote the achievements of fleets in the state that stand out from their peers in “greening” their fleet operations.

Investing in Green Efforts
The Green Fleets Program has worked with entities ranging from small business fleets to large governmental agencies. For most of them, the No. 1 area targeted is fuel, probably because it is the largest operating cost fleets incur. Darwin Burkhart, who chairs the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition and serves as the manager of the Illinois EPA Clean Air Programs, heads up Illinois Green Fleets.

Burkhart described some of the help provided by the program. “We’ve distributed rebates for alternative-fueled vehicles and equipment totaling more than $5.3 million in the last 10 years involving more than 8,000 vehicles,” he said. Unlike Energy Policy Act (EPAct) programs, Green Fleets ties its incentives to the use of sustainable fuels, such as E-85, as opposed to providing an incentive to an alternative-fuel vehicle that doesn’t actually use the fuel.

In addition, the Green Fleets program also provides grants for clean diesel projects to clean up everything from bulldozers, mining equipment, tug boats, and locomotives to school buses, transit buses, and long-haul and delivery trucks. In each case, the results have included reduced petroleum consumption, lower emissions, and — probably most important to a vehicle’s viability — cost efficiency.
According to Burkhart, investments in Illinois fleets and businesses are paying off. “We’ve provided more than $22 million in funding so far to take 30- to 40-year-old diesel engines and replace them with newer, cleaner burning ones, along with implementing products to reduce idling and exhaust emissions,” he said.

The program partners with Caterpillar, International/Navistar, and John Deere, all firms with headquarters in Illinois, to provide the upgrades. These manufacturers are all multinational as well, but the Midwest, in many ways, is the center of the “diesel universe.” “Other states have similar programs and utilize Illinois’ diesel manufacturing companies, sending more dollars back to Illinois and supporting manufacturing jobs,” Burkhart added.

Partnering happens at the local retail level as well. Car dealers are the conduit for alt-fueled vehicles and area maintenance and repair shops perform conversions of existing conventional, gasoline-powered equipment to an alternative fuel.

One of the more successful diesel projects in the Green Fleets Program involved Peabody Arclar mines, near Harrisburg, Ill. Peabody wanted to enhance employee health and safety by installing new engines on 1970s vintage equipment to reduce the particulate emissions the miners were exposed to. Consistent with the green economics and green Illinois theme in the program motto, the company purchased new Caterpillar engines for some of the equipment used in the mining operation. This not only supported jobs at the manufacturing plant near Peoria, but also provided significant, long-term work for several employees at a local Caterpillar shop in southern Illinois that removed the old engines and installed the new, much cleaner and fuel-efficient models.

Though businesses and the public are now fully tuned into miles-per-gallon, fuel efficiency, and reduced emissions, it has taken  the economic crisis and its toll on budgets to really drive that response, according to Burkhart. “For many, you have to make a business or budget case first, and I understand that. With the high costs of gasoline and diesel, small businesses and larger companies are looking for other options, realizing that some money upfront will pay for itself hundreds of times over with fuel savings. These types of proactive steps can make a business much more cost efficient,” he said.

Additional strategies that Green Fleets has supported with incentives include fleets switching to natural gas or other fuel sources and promoting the use of electricity to power vehicles and equipment.
 The Program gets calls from firms such as refuse haulers, too. Four waste management companies in the Chicago area are way ahead of the curve, converting to and replacing trucks with compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered ones, and even installing their own CNG stations. Groot Industries in Elk Grove Village, Ill., is now operating 20 CNG trucks, a trend in the heavy truck sector. According to Burkhart, “CNG is costing [the company] about $2 to $2.20 per equivalent gallon of gasoline or diesel. The savings are significant, especially when their trucks run all day. Still other fleets are exploring propane autogas at $1.70 to $2 per gasoline gallon equivalent.”

Burkhart said E-85 and biodiesel also remain very popular alternative fuels, with a growing trend toward hybrids and electric vehicles. In his opinion, “hybrids have paved the way for transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) as the public gets more comfortable with electricity as a potential fuel source for niche vehicles.”

Green Fleets also supports hybrid technology projects for school buses and delivery trucks. Burkhart estimated “the ballpark cost increase for a new hybrid truck or bus is about 15 to 25 percent of the cost of a conventional diesel vehicle. Some fleets voluntarily try new fuels and technologies, others are attracted by tax incentives and rebates, still others wait for the impetus of government regulation to make changes,” he said.

There are also some no-cost strategies that are being implemented by fleets that other fleets can adopt. For example, UPS implemented a company policy requiring van drivers to turn the ignition off at stops to cut fuel consumption and emissions from idling. In addition, UPS recently announced a purchase of 100 electric delivery trucks among its green fleet initiatives.

Burkhart also cited the food distributor Schwan’s Food Service as another company ahead of the curve that began switching its trucks to propane autogas almost 30 years ago. Similarly, food delivery company El Milagro in Chicago has been using propane autogas in its fleet of delivery trucks for 10 years. “Many small businesses became the industry leaders in moving to American fuels, even when gas was $1.30,” said Burkhart. Some of the first fleets to qualify as Illinois Green Fleets include Corrigan Plumbing and Hollub Heating, both small companies that switched to natural gas many years ago.

According to Burkhart, “back then, they could only say they were cleaner; now, they can also tout the economic benefits. I’m sure they don’t watch the numbers with a wary eye at the local gas stations like the rest of us do.”

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