Alternative fuel site launched in Lake County
The newest gas pump in Lake County resembles those at stations lining many major roads.
But that's where the similarity ends.
Instead of gasoline or diesel, the recently constructed pump at the Groot Industries Inc., yard in Round Lake Park dispenses compressed natural gas, also known as CNG, which company officials say will offer a better long term alternative for powering its fleet of waste disposal trucks.
It's one of the few CNG fueling stations in Lake County, and is projected to eventually be the first large-scale plant accessible to private fleets and municipalities.
"It's very simplistic but at the same time, very technical," explained Brian Curry, the waste hauler's director of fleet.
Arriving from Nicor as it would for any utility customer, the natural gas goes through four stages to increase its pressure so it can be used to power trucks.
Construction of the station took several months and cost about $2.4 million, an investment that company officials say will provide a less expensive domestic fuel that also will help the environment.
"It runs very clean and the trucks run very quiet as well," explained company vice president Jon Groot.
According to Chicago Area Clean Cities, more than two dozen CNG stations now operate in the metropolitan area. Entities using the alternative fuel include the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Brookfield Zoo, city of Chicago, and the village of Lake Zurich.
Besides being less expensive (about $1 per equivalent gallon at this time) the price of natural gas doesn't fluctuate as much as diesel and it is a plentiful domestic fuel source, said Walter Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.
"The waste industry as a whole has been a leader in moving to the compressed natural gas trucks and creating a market," he said.
Communities are beginning to stipulate in hauling contracts that environmentally friendly vehicles be used, Willis added.
Groot was the first in the area to install a natural gas fueling station at its Elk Grove Village facility in October 2009. Thirty-three trucks operating from that location run on compressed natural gas, a number that will increase to 40 this spring.
Last May, Waste Management opened a compressed natural gas fueling station in Wheeling. Veolia Environmental also has one in Northbrook, according to Willis.
Waste Management Spokesman Bill Plunkett said the company has a national initiative to use clean burning fuels and reduce emissions 15 percent by 2020.
"In response to our municipal customers, Waste Management is in the process of expanding our compressed natural gas fleet across the Chicago area," he said.
In Lake County, new trucks using the fuel are operating in Highland Park, Deerfield, Hawthorn Woods, Lake Zurich, Buffalo Grove, Kildeer and Long Grove, he added.
"These trucks deliver nearly zero air particulates and 23 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
Groot's Round Lake Park station is not being used on a daily basis yet, but next spring the company expects delivery of three new trucks specially made to run on compressed natural gas.
"We'll be replacing every diesel truck with a natural gas truck as they're retired," Curry said.
Once converted to liquid gallons, also known as the gasoline gallon equivalent, natural gas costs about $2.50 per gallon compared to about $3.50 per gallon for diesel, according to Curry.
"The strategy is to have consistent pricing on our fuel. It's much less susceptible to world events," he said.
But each truck built to use compressed natural gas costs about $50,000 more than a diesel model. The newest diesel trucks run as clean as those using compressed natural gas, Curry added, but are less reliable and carry maintenance and other costs natural gas trucks do not.
While federal sources paid about a quarter of the cost of Groot's Round Lake Park station and the state pays about $4,000 per truck as an incentive, the payback is not the incentive, company officials say.
"It's a very long term investment for us," Groot said.
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