Case Study: 100 Percent Effort

Illinois Innovation Accelerates Biodiesel Applications

By Bill Stadick

Imagine biodiesel growth potential if fleets ran on B100. That’s the motivation behind a cutting-edge project funded by the ISA checkoff program that could ultimately increase biodiesel blends.

The pilot project is underway at the Chicago Park District (CPD) using an innovative fuel system from Optimus Technologies, a company focused on high-performance biodiesel solutions for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. With this technology, fleet operators can use B100 in existing diesel vehicles to lower harmful particulates and reduce greenhouse gases.

In fall of 2018, the CPD installed the Optimus system on two of its refuse trucks, allowing them to run on B100 for much of the workday without any interaction by drivers. The refuse haulers help maintain the park system, and the telematics units track several key engine parameters of interest to fleet managers—fuel economy and diesel particulate filter (DPF) performance.

Refuse trucks typically operate in a low-speed environment with frequent stops. This type of duty cycle makes it tough for the DPF to operate efficiently, which can cause maintenance headaches for mechanics. The pilot project will demonstrate how using biodiesel affects DPFs and help organizers understand how trucks perform on higher biodiesel blends.

The project stems from CPD’s membership in the B20 Club, a partnership between ISA and American Lung Association supporting Illinois-based fleets devoted to 20 percent biodiesel use.

“The Chicago Park District is strongly committed to vehicle sustainability and has pushed the envelope for biodiesel blends in municipal fleets,” says Pete Probst of Indigenous Energy, a contractor working on the biodiesel program. “Diesel vehicles, from lawn mowers to log loaders, receive up to 50 percent biodiesel throughout the year. We’re excited to work with Optimus Technologies to achieve blends up to 100 percent biodiesel.”


Leading by Biodiesel Example

Funding the CPD project is just one example of ISA’s biodiesel leadership. Since the mid-1990s, ISA has invested significant funds, time and expertise to build the industry from the ground up.

“The relationship between ISA and biodiesel is a great story,” says Rebecca Richardson, who has worked on ISA’s biodiesel initiatives for more than 20 years. “Illinois farmer-leaders had a vision from the beginning.”

The key, according to Richardson, is an unflinching courage and willingness to tackle “non-sexy” challenges. One example is the early Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing to prove biodiesel’s positive health effects. “In the early days, no single company could afford to do that research, and ISA stepped in to help get it done,” says Richardson.

More recently, ISA secured a research firm to conduct a soon-to-be-completed study on the potential for increased biodiesel use in the maritime industry. With new International Maritime Organization regulations taking effect in January 2020, tens of thousands of ocean-going vessels will need to rethink their current fuel use in favor of options with lower sulfur emissions, such as biodiesel. When completed, the study will determine the economic feasibility of and most promising pathways to introduce biodiesel into the global maritime industry.

“ISA has a reputation for taking the lead by investing in new opportunities for soybeans that might be overlooked. Maritime fuel is a perfect example. It’s not a slam dunk, but that’s exactly where we excel as an organization—looking at opportunities no one else is thinking about,” says Mark Albertson, ISA director of strategic market development.