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Greening Their Fleets

Haulers pursue environmental initiatives while minimizing impact on the bottom line.

Sean Kilcarr

February 1, 2008

9 Min Read
Greening Their Fleets

When allied Waste Services of San Mateo County, Calif., began investigating alternative fuel options for its 225-truck fleet last year, the firm wanted to accomplish several goals: reduce petroleum use, cut emissions, fight global warming and save money.

A tall order, to be sure, but Allied thought it could be done and believed using biodiesel would help the company do it. By fueling all of its trucks with B20 — a blended fuel made up of 20 percent biodiesel (made from locally recycled vegetable oil) and 80 percent ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) — Allied felt it could reach all of the “green” targets it had set.

“Biodiesel is the best greenhouse gas mitigation strategy for heavy-duty vehicles available, and this conversion will have a demonstrative, positive environmental impact in the Bay Area communities we serve,” said John Zillmer, chairman and CEO of Allied's parent company, Phoenix-based Allied Waste Industries, in a press release. “In addition, there are proven maintenance cost savings to biodiesel, making this both a good business decision as well as the environmentally right thing to do.”

The move makes Allied's San Mateo operation one of the largest users of B20 biodiesel in Northern California and reduces the company's local carbon emissions by more than 3.3 million pounds each year. That's the equivalent of taking more than 315 cars off area roadways annually and replacing about 80,000 gallons of ULSD the firm would otherwise use with a clean-burning alternative produced from local renewable resources. Allied also projects that the cost to fuel the fleet with biodiesel should be the same as the cost of ULSD at current market rates, making it a “cost neutral” fuel switch.

“We're doing our part locally to fight climate change by transforming our entire San Mateo County fleet to biodiesel as quickly as fuel supplies allow,” Zillmer added.

Defraying the Cost

One of the critical elements in “greening” a refuse fleet is managing the costs involved. Though in many cases alternative fuels, such as natural gas, can be far cheaper than diesel on a per-gallon equivalency comparison, the fuel systems often needed on trucks and at refueling stations can come with significant price tags.

When San Diego's refuse collection division began buying refuse trucks powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) a decade ago, it spent $20,000 to $30,000 more per vehicle over a diesel-only model, says Chuck Woolever, deputy director for the division. However, San Diego received federal and state grants to cover the difference for the vehicles, as well as similar aid to build an LNG refueling station, which cost more than $500,000.

“You really need to take a look at the entire picture,” Woolever says. “When we started looking at using alternative fuels in our fleet, we looked at everything: could we get government subsidies for clean air technology to help defray the cost, which fuel would best let us maintain the duty cycle for our vehicles, etc. Refueling infrastructure cost is another factor you must watch closely as you may or may not be able to get funding to help pay for it.”

Richard McHale, fleet manager for Austin, Texas, also went through a similar series of cost calculations when the city decided to buy six rear loader refuse trucks powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). Those vehicles are used to collect leaves, small brush and grass clippings on residential routes.

“In our case, we were able to get a grant to pay for some of the differential cost in the trucks and for part of a fueling facility,” McHale says. “Also, CNG is just one fuel type [that] City of Austin Solid Waste Services is evaluating in our plan to improve vehicle emissions and diversify our fuel usage.”

McHale notes that although the city wanted to use CNG for cleaner emissions from refuse vehicles (Austin in near non-attainment for air quality), the gas also offered a better opportunity to defray the cost of the switch than some other alternative fuels. Austin's CNG re-fueling facility has the capability to fuel private vehicles, which helps to lower the overall cost the city pays for the fuel. “Our price for natural gas will decrease upon greater consumption, so as new vehicles are added to the fleet, the price will fall below what we are paying for diesel,” he says.

Managing a county's fleet, fuel consumption, emissions and cost requires many factors — some directly competing — to be evaluated and weighed against the overriding mission, which is serving the public, says Doug Weichman, director of the fleet management division for Palm Beach County, Fla. “Currently, most alternative fuels have drawbacks,” he says. Issues pertaining to vehicle reliability, availability of parts, technicians insufficiently trained to maintain new technology and infrastructure, and increased cost can impact service delivery, Weichman adds. “A perfect example of a failed alternative fuel program was our [experience] with CNG in the 1990s at an additional cost of almost $5,000 per vehicle and over $600,000 in two filling stations, only to have the manufacturers and the industry no longer support this program,” he says.

Other Green Efforts

While Gary Simmons, vice president of fleet management for Casella Waste Systems, Rutland, Vt., isn't switching the company's 850 trucks to alternative fuels, he is installing new bypass oil filtration systems that will significantly extend engine oil life and reduce the amount of oil his shop disposes of each year.

Once the implementation is complete, the company estimates that it will save 200,000 gallons of oil and $600 dollars per vehicle each year. Simmons also expects to realize a return on investment (ROI) on the OPS-1 bypass oil filtration system in about a year, with a 1,300 percent ROI over the 10-year ownership cycle for Casella's trucks.

“We had looked at a number of solutions for extending the oil life on our vehicles, instead of changing it so frequently,” he says. “With each of our vehicles running more than 2,400 hours per year, and often in tough road and weather conditions, we were able to see very quickly the benefits of this technology in extending the life of our engines' oil and saving the company a substantial amount of money in oil maintenance costs, while also minimizing the negative impact to the environment.”

“We are keenly interested in technologies and processes that are built on the idea of resource sustainability and conservation, in short, that save both money and scarce material resources,” says John Casella, the company's chairman and CEO. “When we come across a product that is not only good for the environment but also has a positive financial impact on the business, it makes perfect sense for us to adopt the technology.”

Whatever green initiatives a firm decides to pursue, fleets should focus on getting public recognition for their efforts, says Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager for Culver City, Calif. “We get positive feedback about our efforts all the time, because we've labeled all of our CNG-powered trucks with a special logo telling the public about the clean fuel we're using,” he says. “That adds significantly to the value of our organization and to the value of our green fleet efforts.”

While Culver City's refuse fleet still must manage the trade-offs when it comes to running on an alternative fuel (using CNG adds 30 percent to the vehicle's cost, even though the fuel only costs $1 per gallon equivalent) getting public recognition of its green fleet effort is a critical benefit.

“It helps us on a lot of levels — reduce petroleum consumption, reduce emissions, lowers our fuel costs — but it also gets people warmed up to the idea of using alternatives themselves,” Condran says. “If we, a refuse fleet, can use it successfully, maybe they can, too. There's a benefit to helping change the mindset about the applicability of alternatives in today's society.”

Sean Kilcarr is senior editor for Fleet Owner, a sister publication of Waste Age.



It's officially called liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but propane is the main ingredient. According to the National Propane Gas Association, the advantage of using LPG as a vehicle fuel is that it produces less carbon buildup in engines. The disadvantage is that it has to be stored under pressure, requiring special tanks and refueling equipment.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

Stored under high pressure, CNG has some of the same drawbacks as propane. It requires use of extra equipment on vehicles and at refueling sites, with fleet refueling stations costing anywhere from $250,000 to $3 million.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

A natural gas that has been cooled down to a liquid state, more LNG can be stored onboard to increase mileage range. But since LNG must be stored at extremely cold temperatures (-260 degrees Fahrenheit), refrigeration systems must be added to vehicles.


The advantage to biodiesel — which is made from natural oils found in soybeans and other agricultural products, methanol and a sodium hydroxide catalyst — is that no vehicle conversions are required and it can be used in the same refueling network as gasoline and diesel fuel. Biodiesel is typically used as a blended product called B20 (20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent diesel).


Also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, ethanol is mixed with gasoline to form a blended fuel. E-85 (85 percent ethanol) and E-95 (95 percent ethanol) are made from agricultural products such as corn, barley and wheat and are mixed with gasoline. Using a fuel made up of mostly ethanol, however, lowers fuel economy 20 percent to 25 percent compared to pure gasoline — and the fuel hoses and seals on older trucks may wear out faster when exposed to high concentrations of ethanol.


Though it's an alcohol-based fuel, methanol is made from both agricultural products and natural gas. Methanol also is a fuel that is widely blended with gasoline. It's in limited production and not widely available.


The benefit of using electric vehicles (EVs) is that the refueling infrastructure is already in place, with a wide network of power plants and cables supplying electricity to homes and businesses across the country. The disadvantage is that the batteries needed to store electricity in the quantities necessary to power a vehicle at least 100 miles restrict the size and weight-hauling characteristics of EVs. These vehicles will most likely be used as commuter cars or in local delivery operations.
Sean Kilcarr

About the Author(s)

Sean Kilcarr

Senior Editor, Fleet Owner

Sean Kilcarr is the senior editor of Fleet Owner.

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