coke-truck.jpgWith current fuel prices high, alternative fuel use is surging among businesses and governments that depend on vehicle fleets to transport their products and services to the public.  Alternative fuels, whether biodiesel, propane or electric, provide benefits that go beyond simply saving money. New fuels deliver measureable improvements in air quality over traditional 100% petroleum-based fuels while moving us toward energy independence.

In 2004 the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that the use of biodiesel, which is made from renewable agricultural resources — preferably waste products or non-energy-intensive ones like algae —  vegetable oils or animal waste, can reduce emissions of particulate matter by 47% in traditional diesel engine tailpipes. They also verified a 67% reduction in unburned hydrocarbons and a 48% reduction in carbon monoxide. Significant reductions (by 75 to 80%) in the emission of suspected cancer causing agents (PAH and nPAH) were also observed.

This year significant corporate players are boarding the alternative fuel bandwagon with green initiatives.  Safeway Inc. has converted its entire fleet of more than 1,000 trucks to cleaner-burning biodiesel fuel. The decision by Safeway will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75 million pounds annually —  the equivalent of taking nearly 7,500 passenger vehicles off the road each year.

  • Peco Energy Co. of Pennsylvania now has roughly 580 utility trucks running on a biodiesel fuel blend. Dominick’s Grocery Stores (the first retailer in Illinois to convert its entire fleet) has 78 tractors and 350 refrigerated trailers running on biodiesel.
  • A vegetable division of Dole Food Company, Inc. announced in February that it has converted all of its harvesting equipment in Salinas, California and in Yuma, Arizona to B20 Bio-diesel fuel.  
  • Coke will add 120 hybrid electric trucks to its delivery fleet across the country starting with 5 vehicles in Bronx, NY.
  • Sysco Corp., the largest foodservice marketing and distribution organization in North America — and the owner of the largest private truck fleet in the United States — announced last year they had 300 tractor trailers successfully running on biodiesel blends, and plans to expand in the future.

Used French Fry Oil to Power McDonald’s Trucks

McDonald’s embarked on actions last year to use the cooking oil from its 1,200 restaurants in Great Britain to power 155 delivery trucks. It estimates a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 1,675 tons (3.35 million pounds) on an annual basis.

Another player to enter in 2007 was United Parcel Service which began building a “green fleet” transforming more than 300 of its brown trucks to natural gas or propane, and its ground support vehicles at the UPS air hub in Louisville, to biodiesel.

Early Pioneers

Early pioneers converting their fleets to alternative fuels include private companies, agencies, schools, and transit systems.  Leading the way was LL Bean, with its focus on products geared to the outdoors. The company started using 20% biodiesel (B20) in their tractor trailer fleet and box trucks back in 2003, and even in the mini-school buses used to transport customers to various outdoor adventures.

Hutchinson Salt Company, whose main product is highway salt for inclement weather, began using biodiesel in June 2003, and used 31,229 gallons that first year.  Their employees noted the vastly improved air quality.
Also that year Eureka Recycling, in St. Paul, MN, a nonprofit group that provides curbside and apartment recycling services began using B20 in its entire fleet of 22 trucks. According to their Director of Business Development, the utilization of biodiesel costs less than one cent per household, per month and “is better for the health of the community and their employees.”

Greening their city starting in 2003, Colorado Springs had used nearly 1.6 million gallons of biodiesel by 2007 in more than 2,400 city vehicles and equipment — the equivalent of saving the atmosphere from more than 5 million pounds of carbon dioxide, or 491 passenger cars being taken off the road for an entire year.

Governments and Schools on Cutting Edge

And while we sometimes think of “big government” as moving slowly to embrace new technologies, in  2004 the United States Postal Service stepped up and became the largest US Federal agency to use alternative fuels in its vehicles. That year the Postal Service used approximately 941,485 gallons of biodiesel at sites across the country including New York, Michigan, Missouri, and Florida.

Even schools are getting in on the act. In 2006 the Pennsylvania Great Valley School district converted its 70 buses to biodiesel and reduced their emissions of carbon dioxide by 435,000 pounds per year. Also that year Virginia Beach public schools began using biodiesel fuel in their 600 buses. 

Last year Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky announced it would operate its 1,056 buses on biodiesel and the city of Kingsport, TN moved 230 diesel vehicles to a biodiesel blend.

Not to be out down by the schools, NASA and the US Navy are implementing alternative fuels in an aggressive way.
There is still much to be done but let’s celebrate the initiative and actions of all these entities which are converting to alternative fuels and improving our environment.

(Geri provided research and writing on this story)

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