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.”[PAGEBREAK]

Stealing the Spotlight
Since a primary program objective is fleet recognition, Green Fleets works to promote the achievements of corporate, small business, government, and other fleets in Illinois that stand out from their peers in “greening” their fleet operations. Members of Illinois Green Fleets are designated by the Illinois EPA for implementing clean American fuels and alternative-fuel vehicles, thereby providing improved air quality and greater energy security.

UPS announced the purchase of hybrid-electric delivery trucks as part of its green fleet initiatives.

UPS announced the purchase of hybrid-electric delivery trucks as part of its green fleet initiatives.

The recognition, branding, and networking opportunities associated with the Illinois Green Fleets Program have resulted in significant media attention for many fleets. This has included reports from major television networks, newspapers, trade publications, and nationally distributed magazines, as well as recognition from local, state, and federal government officials.

The IEPA and its partners want to ensure all fleets that take extraordinary efforts with their green fleet initiatives are properly recognized for their efforts and results.

The process to apply to become an official Illinois Green Fleet is straightforward. Interested fleets submit an application that includes survey questions on fleet demographics, types of alternative-fuel vehicles and fuel types, along with metrics on consumption. Applications are scored based on predetermined criteria including petroleum displaced and best practices. More information is available at www.illinoisgreenfleets.org.

Green Fleets Success Stories
According to Burkhart, some of the most exciting progress made in the evolution of alternative fuels lately has been in fields such as the lawn care business.

Entrepreneur Eric Hansen is president of Competitive Lawn Service, headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., a company that originated about 30 years ago. The company provides trucks, trailers, and equipment for eight to nine crews.

Hansen began converting company trucks to propane autogas a few years ago. The fleet includes Ford F-250 and F-350 pickups with dump beds. Six company trucks are now OEM propane-autogas-powered, utilizing systems developed by ROUSH Performance in Detroit. The ROUSH CleanTech system is bi-fuel and uses liquefied propane autogas (LPG) for power.

Hansen said he has also utilized bi-fueled systems developed by The Edge, an Italian firm, and Techno Carb, a developing Canadian firm, which use vaporized propane autogas. The company operates 16 landscape units, including professional mowers employees stand, ride, and walk behind, which are all now propane-autogas-powered as well.

In terms of reliability, Hansen said his company has no complaints. To date, he said maintenance is costing his company “less with the propane autogas-powered equipment. So far, we have accumulated between 30,000-40,000 miles on the ROUSH trucks and they’ve been able to extend oil change intervals to 10,000 miles, saving money and fleet downtime.” He also added that “performance is great.”

Ford provides the standard warranty for the propane autogas-powered trucks. The company’s bi-fuel units are on a three-year/30,000-mile warranty for the add-on units. They enjoy the standard manufacturers’ warranty on engine and powertrain, which are not impacted by the additional equipment. Hansen said his company plans to perform minor maintenance, such as filter replacements, themselves and all other maintenance is standard.

The primary differences in propane autogas-powered truck system components are in the fuel tank, distribution lines to the engine, regulator system, and the fuel itself. Hansen described the propane autogas systems as “simple and straightforward.”

The list of success stories is long; currently 123 fleets have officially been designated Illinois Green Fleets. The diverse group ranges from zoos to schools, universities and the state fleet, to major metropolitan fleets like the City of Chicago.[PAGEBREAK]

Select Illinois Green Fleets include:

Abt Electronics uses biodiesel in its large fleet of delivery trucks and diesel-powered, off-road equipment. It operates 30 flex-fuel vans capable of running on E-85 and two vans recently added to the fleet that run on natural gas. It is also looking to convert its fleet of box trucks over to natural gas. Abt received an Illinois Clean Diesel grant from the IEPA to retrofit eight of its delivery trucks with diesel oxidation catalysts to reduce particulate matter.  

Chicago Park District uses five different types of alternative fuels and vehicle technologies in its fleet: 56 CNG vehicles, two electric vehicles, 48 hybrid vehicles, three E-85 flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs), and B-20 produced in-house for diesel trucks, as well as biodiesel in its tractors and lawnmowers. The company consumes more than 40,000 gallons of alternative fuels annually.

Northern Illinois University (NIU). Fleet Director Bill Finucane was instrumental in helping the IEPA develop its rules for the Alternate Fuels Rebate Program, which has served as a national model for other states’ incentive programs. The university implemented AFVs in 2004. Currently, two-thirds of the 245-vehicle fleet run on alternative fuels (i.e. E-85, biodiesel, natural gas) or are hybrids.
NIU has experienced fuel savings of approximately 100,000 gallons of petroleum, or more than $300,000 in fuel costs. Campus police patrol campus in hybrids that increase fuel economy 8-10 mpg to 40 mpg.

In addition, Finucane provided outreach and education on fleet metrics and best practices with numerous Midwestern fleets on alternative-fuel initiatives.

Dillon Transport operates 280 trucks from terminals throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada transporting fuels, asphalt, dry bulk items, and other temperature-sensitive materials using biodiesel, and is a member of the National Biodiesel Board and an EPA SmartWay Program partner.
The company required the use of E-85 in flex-fuel vehicles, and recently committed to the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Ohio transport trucks, resulting in a new public LNG fueling station at a Pilot Flying J truck center.

DuPage County Division of Transportation has a green fleet policy in which it purchases or converts to alternative fuel as much as possible, including E-85, biodiesel, natural gas, propane autogas, electric, and hybrid vehicles.

Of the 500 diverse types of vehicles in its fleet, 43 percent operate on a clean, alternative fuel. These include 108 trucks that run on B-20, B-80, E-85, E-15, or natural gas. In addition, it operates 12 gasoline-electric hybrids and battery-electric vehicles.

Some fleets choose among proven strategies and implement the safest, least risky changes already proven in the marketplace aiming toward fuel efficiency. Other fleets are also trying new technologies before the ROI calculations are complete and while the jury is still out on how successful they are.
Programs such as IEPA’s Illinois Green Fleets provide the impetus to ensure that methods to reduce the consumption of non-renewable fuels like petroleum with its associated environmental impacts are developed, available, and utilized.

About the Author

Barbara Bonansinga has worked in fleet management with the State of Illinois for more than 25 years and is vice president of the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators
(NCSFA). She can be reached via e-mail at bbonansinga@sbcglobal.net