Pyke: Green vehicles starting to catch on in the suburbs

The electric bus and the compressed natural gas cement truck on display at the Green Driver$ 2015 event in Wheaton last week were more than just novelties.

They're proof that, despite low gas prices and fuel-efficient conventional cars, once iconoclastic green vehicles are growing on America, officials with Chicago Area Clean Cities say.

It's not just the Prius in the neighbor's driveway or the Volt in your workplace parking lot. Local governments, such as the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and City of Naperville, are shifting their fleets of trucks away from diesel.

Among the options: compressed natural gas (CNG). David Hagopian of Advanced Vehicle Technology Services showed off a prototype Naperville police Chevrolet Tahoe that runs on CNG during the event at the DuPage County Fairgrounds. The Buffalo Grove company converts gas-powered engines into natural gas users.

It can cost from $9,000 to $13,000 for a van or pickup truck to switch to CNG, but “the fuel is less costly,” Hagopian said. Industry experts say the payoff in cheaper fuel can be less than two years.

And while gas prices are a moving target, natural gas hovers around $1 to $2 a gallon or so, said Chicago Clean Cities Vice President John Walton of Wheaton.

One nonstarter for most drivers is that CNG fueling stations are rare. Naperville, however, is considering building one and opening it for public use, Public Works Director Dick Dublinski said.

A majority of the 585 vehicles in Naperville's fleet could be served by CNG in the future, Dublinski said.

“I really like CNG for the environmental aspect, and the result of our taxpayers saving money is an added bonus,” he said.

But recently, released a survey indicating that sales of alternative vehicles dipped in the first quarter of 2015. Sales of electrics and hybrids comprised 2.7 percent of new car sales compared to 3.3 percent in 2014.

That hasn't slowed Volt customers, said Joe Villa, a sales rep at Haggerty Chevrolet of Wheaton/Glen Ellyn.

“A lot of customers are looking for the ability to leave a smaller carbon footprint,” he said, adding that consumers also want a break from the fluctuations in gas prices, including the tiresome so-called “summer blend” price spike Chicagoans and suburbanites face.

It doesn't hurt that Volt prices have dropped to the mid-$30,000s compared to an initial cost of $40,000 for the electric car.

The federal government also offers tax rebates of up to $7,500 for many alternative fuel vehicles, Walton said.

You should know

One exhibit drawing gear heads was PLUGLESS — a wireless car charger for electric cars. Instead of plugging in, the system “uses a magnetic field to transfer energy across the air,” Park Ridge-based vendor Green Ways 2Go explains.

“All you do is drive up, park in your spot, and the charge begins automatically,” Green Ways executive Tim Milburn said.

One more thing

But are electric cars totally green? They use massive batteries that store electricity generated from power plants that may burn coal or natural gas, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur oxides.

It's an issue Argonne National Laboratory Senior Scientist Michael Wang has studied in depth.

“As they drive, electric vehicles (EV) do not emit pollutants, including carbon dioxide, because they use electricity from a battery rather than from combusted liquid fuel,” said Wang, manager of the Systems Assessment Group in the Energy Systems Division.

But the power they use to recharge does emit pollutants. Not surprisingly, electric vehicles with batteries using electricity from efficient power plants or wind and solar sources reduce pollution, researchers say.

EVs in California, which has relatively cleaner electricity than other states, “emit significantly less CO2 than gasoline cars. EVs in Illinois ... with 65 percent of power from coal (the remaining power comes from nuclear and natural gas) can still provide 30 percent reductions in CO2 emissions,” Wang said.

Love your Volt, Prius, CNG truck? Or is your traditional ride a fuel miser? Drop me an email at

Gridlock alert

A section of Thomas Drive south of Thorndale in Bensenville will close the first two weekends of June for sewer construction related to the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) project.


Lombard's Metra station takes a big step toward safety with the opening of a pedestrian tunnel Wednesday. The project is part of a $9.7 million upgrade at the station by Metra and Union Pacific.

Drowsy teens equal crashes

Fatigue is responsible for one out of every five fatal vehicle accidents, and young drivers 16 to 24 are the most likely age group to be involved in a drowsy-driving crash, the AAA estimates. That's one reason the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Sleep Medicine will host a Twitter chat about teens and fatigued driving. The event is from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday and uses the hashtag #DontDriveDrowsy.

Young drivers 16 to 24 are the most likely age group to be involved in a drowsy-driving crash.
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