Of the 170 vehicles that make up the DuPage County Forest Preserve District’s fleet, 95% run on alternative fuels like liquefied petroleum gas, biodiesel and electricity.
That commitment to alternative fuels has made the district one of the top fleets of its kind in the nation.
The district began moving away from regular diesel and gas in 2002, becoming an early adopter of compressed natural gas, which creates less smog-related tailpipe emissions than gasoline. From there, the district expanded its use of alternative fuels as its budget and replacement cycle allowed, lowering fuel costs and reducing emissions.
“Being a conservation-related organization, it only made sense to try to clean the environment, since that’s what we’re kind of all about here,” said Michael Webster, the district’s assistant director of public safety and services.
That level of commitment recently led the district to a ranking as the No. 1 small fleet and No. 2 overall fleet in the nation in the Leading Fleets Award competition hosted by Government Fleet magazine. In the 100 Best Public Fleets in the Americas competition hosted by the NAFA Fleet Management Association, the district ranked No. 23.
The competitions look to highlight not only alternative fuels, but also overall sustainability and fleet management. Last year, the DuPage County district installed one of its largest solar arrays on its fleet management building at Blackwell Forest Preserve.
The 262-kilowatt array is designed to offset 110% of electrical-energy consumption at the building, which has an electric vehicle charging station.
Because the district manages its 26,000 acres of preserve and 166 miles of trails completely in-house, the fleet is central to its operation. The 170 vehicles include asphalt pavers, front-end loaders and dump trucks.
With electric pickup trucks and vans coming to the market over the last decade, the district now has four fully electric vehicles and two more on the way. Webster said the district hopes to continue adding to those numbers, though availability is limited for larger vehicles.
“Electric vehicles are not available or practical for all applications. They’re just now starting to work on having the large, Class 8 dump trucks be available and electric,” Webster said. “We’re going to have a mix of these for quite some time until the infrastructure gets out there for more electric and larger electric equipment becomes available. The cost has to come down. Right now, it’s extremely expensive.”
Webster added the district is working toward a 100% alternative fuel fleet, and it is open to exploring new technologies as they become available such as hydrogen fuel cells.
“We’re always looking ahead at what’s the next alternative fuel out there. What’s the next best way of having the least amount of carbon output — zero carbon output, ideally — within budget,” he said. “We don’t really have a singular focus at the moment. It’s just what’s available for government purchasing and what’s going to be practical for us to use to get the job done.”
• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.