From Wisconsin to Las Vegas, City of Madison is ALL IN on Biodiesel
by Mahanth Joishy, Superintendent of Madison Fleet
It’s nice to start out the year celebrating big, collaborative wins in the fight against climate change, especially in these challenging times.
From January 17-20, 2022, Fleet Operations Manager Randy Koch and I joined hundreds of top clean fuel industry professionals at the National Biodiesel Conference in Las Vegas. It was an important week at the Mandalay Bay gathering. On Monday, our valued partner and event host, the National Biodiesel Board was officially re-branded Clean Fuels Alliance America. This surprise unveiling made a big splash, as a name change took effect for the first time since the trade association’s founding in 1992. That same day I was announced as a national Biodiesel Brand Ambassador, a role I take seriously—so seriously that it's why you are reading this here. On Tuesday, the City of Madison delegation was honored to receive the national Inspiration Award from the Alliance on the main stage during the plenary session, on behalf of the Fleet team, all City of Madison agencies and every single person who works hard on behalf of clean fuels.
I also spoke to the large audiences on two different panels about Madison’s extensive experience with biodiesel on both Tuesday and Wednesday in front of a large chunk of North America’s domestic clean fuel industry-- made up of a diverse group of farmers, traders, producers, distributors, soybean boards, government agencies, and customer fleets like ours, all centered on biodiesel and renewable diesel. While we discussed some complex and technical issues from many different angles, here are some of the highlights from Madison Fleet.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are sexy and in the news all the time. My staff and partner agencies are investing heavily in this revolutionary transition with almost 70 EVs and over 100 hybrid-electric vehicles already in operation, including North America’s first and still-only working EV fire truck made by Pierce Manufacturing, right here in Wisconsin. More are on the way. I wrote a Cap Times editorial imploring the Madison public to join the EV movement immediately. I am also 100% certain that light and medium duty EVs will wipe out the gasoline engine in a few years.
However, biodiesel has by leaps and bounds made a larger impact on our fleet’s shrinking carbon footprint than EVs, the aspect of our transportation needs harming our planet that must be fixed ASAP. It will do so today, and far into the future. At best, even with Madison leading one of the most aggressive plans you'll find for converting our heavy duty truck and Metro bus fleets to EVs, how long will it take to convert all our 800 diesel fleet units over? My estimate is not before my retirement (I’m not that old!) due to the replacement cycles of our vehicles that we often need to keep running for more than 15 years. Think of the new dump trucks Fleet just ordered today- they take two years just to get to us due to supply chain issues, and they may need to keep running past the year 2040. Add the highly expensive EV charging infrastructure costs, the challenging planning and installation work for heavy duty EV charging we are coordinating with our City Engineering colleagues, and annual capital budgets only allowing for a small handful of EV trucks and busses purchased per year in the rosiest of scenarios.
But biodiesel is ready now. Not only does it not require any infrastructure or vehicle modification, in blends of up to 20% (B20) as Madison equipment runs most of the year, or 5% (B5) in the winter. Not only is the biodiesel we get completely renewable, while bolstering our domestic industries. Not only is it not shipped here from faraway states or countries, nor cause the United States government to spend trillions of our taxpayer dollars to protect fossil fuel fields and air, land and sea lanes on other continents just to transport the fuel to America on greenhouse-gas belching tankers. Not only does it cost us about the same as fossil fuel diesel. Not only is it pretty much the only bipartisan domestic issue in America I can even think of. Not only does it reduce an estimated 84% of carbon dioxide emissions and others, when comparing pure biodiesel to regular diesel.
All of the biodiesel Madison buys is processed right here in Dane County, supporting local jobs at the REG plant in DeForest. And all of the raw materials required to synthesize that fuel, come from right here in Wisconsin, from agricultural waste feed stocks such as excess soybean oil, and used restaurant frying oil which Midwestern states like ours have in abundance and will never run out of (we like our cheese curds fried). It doesn’t get more sustainable/circular/local than this to successfully power heavy equipment and the critical emergency and non-emergency missions of City government.
But Madison’s biodiesel journey is just getting warmed up. 2022 will see us turbocharge our biodiesel intake and greenhouse gas reductions. One of the challenges of biodiesel is its cold weather properties, with the higher freezing point forcing us to use B5 or lower in the winter. Meanwhile, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, and other engine manufacturers only warranty their products for customers fueling up to B20 maximum (wrongfully so, in my opinion!). My team has been on the hunt in the last few years for a solution to safely go much higher than blends of B20, an upper limit which we find unacceptable.
This effort paid off recently. In a remarkable pilot program partnership between the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, Clean Fuels Alliance America, REG, Optimus Technologies, and City of Madison Streets, Parks, Engineering, and Fleet we will soon begin fueling 17 diesel units with 100% biodiesel year-round, something only a few fleets nationwide are doing at scale, using Optimus’s heated truck fuel tank technology and a heated dispenser tank that will allow us to power through in good weather or the bitter cold on our plow trucks, forestry vehicles, garbage trucks, and more. Included in this cohort is the first large wood chipper in America that burns 50+ gallons of diesel per hour, which converted to B100, would save over 940 pounds of CO2 every single hour of operation. All of this at net zero cost to the City of Madison thanks to the generous support of our partners.
When the pilot project is proven successful, Fleet’s ambitious goal publicly announced for the first time in June 2021 still stands: to convert our entire fleet to EV, or otherwise B100 by 2030 at the latest. This would easily make us the most sustainable large fleet in North America and beyond. This is a daunting challenge but we are aiming high, and I’m confident Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Madison Common Council, the entire Madison government and community are firmly behind us and demand this of us. We will also need heavy support from many external partners, including those we’ve never even met or heard of before (that’s a hint to the private sector: build it and we will come). We also need many in the automotive and fuel industries to continue stepping up. When it comes to biodiesel, we know many are stepping up: as I learned in Las Vegas, domestic biodiesel annual production is expected to ramp up from under 2 billion gallons annually to over 5 billion by 2030.
This is a race against time, as humans aren’t doing enough to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change and time is fast running out. Here at Fleet we aren’t working to eliminate almost all carbon emissions to solve the problem by ourselves as the 80th biggest city in America; we do this only to prove, as a model on an international scale, that it can be done by everyone in our community and every other fleet operation anywhere. This is why we value the partnership with Clean Fuels Alliance America, and congratulate them on a successful 2022 conference and re-branding. And we welcome any and all competition on sustainability from other fleets.
We are ALL IN. Are you?