Rich Iverson, fleet support manager for the City of Ames. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)
City of Ames on track to reduce carbon footprint
February 15, 2021 | Bethany Baratta
When the Ames City Council saw the results of a community greenhouse gas emissions inventory, it challenged each department to look at how they could positively affect the city’s carbon footprint. The fleet department found a solution in its own backyard: biodiesel.
Meeting carbon reduction goals
A study in Ames between 2014 and 2018 showed a 4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in its fleet department by using E85 and vehicles with increased efficiencies.
Understanding the city’s goals, Renewable Energy Group (REG) approached the city about using greater amounts of biodiesel in city fleets to see if that could positively impact the city’s carbon footprint.
“We identified a few years ago that the city was really progressive in terms of things it was trying to do to combat climate change,” says Jon Scharingson, executive director of sales and marketing for REG. “Fleets within the City of Ames – as they are in a lot of municipalities around the country – are one of the many contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. It was natural for us to partner in the medium- and heavy-duty trucking category, where our solution works particularly well.”
Through a Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant from the National Biodiesel Foundation that provided financial assistance, they introduced Vector System technology from Pittsburgh-based Optimus Technologies for the pilot project, which allows trucks to operate on 100% biodiesel (B100).
Rich Iverson, fleet support manager for the City of Ames, scoped out the opportunity. If REG’s biodiesel and Optimus Technologies’ Vector System were a winning combination for city fleets in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, they could also work in Ames, he thought.
The Ames City Council was supportive of the project, so with assistance from REG and the grant through the National Biodiesel Foundation, the city tested the technology in five city snowplows, costing about $13,000 per truck.
Putting biodiesel to the test
Within one week of receiving the new snowplows in January 2020, Ames was slammed with a major snowstorm and subzero temperatures.
But the B100 from Ames-based REG combined with Optimus Technologies’ Vector System performed flawlessly.
“We really put it to the test,” Iverson says. “In one weekend, the fleet department used 1,000 gallons of B100, and our drivers reported no issues in the trucks' operations.”
This comes as no surprise to Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Director Dave Walton.
“It proves that the biodiesel industry has a quality product,” says Walton. “It’s not the biodiesel we saw 20 years ago and had some bad experiences with. This is a really quality fuel.”
The Vector System starts and shuts down the engine on conventional diesel, operating on biodiesel only after the engine and fuel system achieve optimal operating conditions, says Colin Huwyler, CEO of Optimus Technologies.
“The technology stemmed from the idea that there needs to be solutions for reducing emissions in heavy duty vehicles,” says Huwyler, who started the company in 2010. “There’s a lot of talk and work done in electrification, which works for passenger vehicles, but there weren’t great alternative fuel solutions for snowplows and other heavy duty vehicles. We wanted to build technology that could be integrated into fleet operations— something operators wouldn’t have to think twice about.”
Thanks to the new technology, the city’s five trucks equipped with the Vector system burned about 10% of the city's total annual diesel consumption. The city reduced 120 metric tons of emissions.
Because of the success the fleet department saw with expanded use of biodiesel in 2020, the Ames City Council supported Iverson’s ask to expand usage in 2021.
With seven new Vector-equipped trucks on order, Iverson projects a further reduction in carbon emissions this year.
“We’re looking at quadrupling the reduction over the 2018 figure with about a 260 to 270 metric ton-reduction in carbon intensity,” Iverson says. “That’s huge for us.”
Other cities have reached out to the City of Ames to see how they, too, can benefit from the biodiesel-technology duo.
Huwyler credits the biodiesel industry and REG for reaching out for the opportunity in Ames.
“As municipalities and consumers and other corporations demand more sustainability options and larger carbon reductions, biodiesel has been glossed over because it’s been around, but in low-blend levels,” Huwyler says. “Soybean farmers specifically have helped reinvigorate the idea that biodiesel can be a solution.”
It is the solution, Walton says.
“For any municipality thinking about how to make their cities greener, biodiesel is part of the solution. It’s a matter of fueling up with biodiesel instead of petroleum,” Walton says.
Better. Cleaner. Now.
The National Biodiesel Board’s (NBB) biodiesel tagline: “Better. Cleaner. Now!” reflects the positive attributes of the product.
Biodiesel has nearly 80% fewer life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum diesel, according to NBB. Recent studies show that biodiesel production supports soybean prices by as much as $1 per bushel through increased demand for soybean oil.
And biodiesel is available now.
“In the medium- and heavy-duty trucking category, which includes snow plows and larger vehicles, electrification is not a viable solution in the next 7 to 10 years,” Scharingson says. “And the planet simply cannot wait. Every day, more CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, causing damage. B100 technology provides an immediate solution that fleets can implement today.”
This story was originally published in the February 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.