A growing trend amongst municipal fleets is a pivot to greener, more sustainable practices. Ames, Iowa, and its fleet services Director Corey Mellies are starting on top of the curve with moves to hybrid vehicles and 100% biodiesel fuel when possible.
“Green initiatives have always been important to the city,” Mellies said. “We have for a long time tracked our usage, looking at our greenhouse gas or our CO2 output for our fleet. We have always tried to look at new initiatives, whether that’s hybrids or electric vehicles — things like that can meet people’s needs.”
One of the major recent initiatives was the purchase of several all-purpose dump trucks that utilize the Optimus Technologies advanced fuel system. This allows all seven vehicles to run on 100% biodiesel fuel.
Per the U.S. Department of Energy, biodiesel is a biodegradable fuel created from “vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant grease.” This enables it to meet the renewable fuel standard.
“We partnered with REG (Renewable Energy Group), which is a large supplier of biodiesel and biofuels throughout the country. So we saw really good results out of that. So, and hopefully here in a couple months, we’ll have six more trucks show up, so all of our dump trucks will run on B100.”
Now, that doesn’t mean the trucks don’t still rely on traditional diesel fuel, especially given the frigid winter temperatures in central Iowa.
“In the last year, we went through about 10,000 gallons of B100,” Mellies said. “These systems allow for you to have two tanks, one — the bigger tank — all B100 and then there’s a smaller tank with regular diesel, so it actually purges the system. So during start up, and so you don’t get any of the jelling, it won’t run to B100 till it’s warm enough. We also have a special fuel tank that keeps it warm.”
The Ames fleet service has also made a shift to hybrid police vehicles, which are beneficial to the environment. Additionally, despite the higher sticker price of hybrid vehicles, the switch has turned into a cost-saving initiative.
“We also started putting the hybrid patrol vehicles from Ford into service, and we’ve seen great results out of those two,” Mellies said. “We’ve seen the miles per gallon actually double — go from about 9 to 18 miles per gallon. Obviously, that’s a big, big savings, and a lot of that’s because of the idling. They have to idle to keep their computer systems and radios and everything running. They rarely shut the vehicles off.”
Ames patrol vehicles essentially run 24 hours a day, spanning over multiple shifts. In two years of running those hybrid vehicles, they’ve traveled 125,000 miles, so additional fuel per gallon has really added up.
“We’re also seeing a lot of reduced maintenance costs in that because we don’t have to do oil changes as often,” Mellies said. “We aren’t seeing the wear and tear, like we did on the old vehicles. The city is also still committed; we just did a greenhouse gas inventory that showed that our fleet overall has reduced our greenhouse gas, even though the city itself is growing through some of our initiatives.”
Ames fleet services is also piloting a pair of Chevy Bolts. One is used by the city electric department and the other is a utility vehicle for anyone working in the city to use.
“We do have two electric vehicles that we’re testing in the city,” Mellies said. “We have a municipal electric system. So we partnered with them to kind of get some charging stations for the public and for the city vehicles installed in the city.”
As the cost of electric vehicles continues to become more and more consumer friendly, Mellies said Ames could look into investing in more of them.
This is only the start for Ames. The city intends to put together a climate action plan in the near future, which will almost certainly incorporate additional sustainability practices for fleet services.
“Even for us, we look at other communities that are doing even more and maybe trying different things,” Mellies said. “I think you’ll see it more and more. For a lot of cities, it could actually bring some value, not just the environmental component, which is still very important. You’ll see more in cities doing things like a climate action plan and setting goals, which will definitely impact the fleets.”