Through its biodiesel program, the Chicago Park District recycles used cooking oil from local restaurants to fuel 56 vehicles in its fleet, including lawnmowers, refuse trucks, and log loaders.
"We want to show the city and other entities as well that it’s viable," said Mike Dimitroff, manager of art initiatives for the district's Department of Cultural and Natural Resources.
Dimitroff is also a member of Chicago Area Clean Cities, who hosted a fleet education seminar showcasing the district’s biofuel program this week.
The district began looking into alternative fuels in 2011, when it decided to repurpose a city fueling site that was going defunct and begin self-fueling. The district’s Office of Green Initiatives looked at a number of alternative fuel options before deciding on biodiesel, and the station began supplying biodiesel in 2013.
Darling International, a company that collects used cooking oil from local restaurants and community events like the Taste of Chicago, entered a multi-year deal to donate cooking oil, known as feedstock, to the park district. From there, the feedstock is sent to Renewable Energy Group where it is converted to biofuel.
Pete Probst, director of research and development for Indigenous Energy, works with the Chicago Park District to calibrate the biofuel blends and determine a concentration that works best for the fleet. He said that the program started with a B20 biodiesel blend but has since moved up to B50 for the summer. The district plans to transition back to B20 for winter, since high-concentrate blends have higher freezing temperatures.
Biofuel has also been distributed to the district’s satellite storage sites, but there are limits to expansion. Since the district only maintains one fueling station on the south side, it isn’t viable for park vehicles across town to drive over for fuel. The district can’t afford the infrastructure for multiple sites so many vehicles still get fuel at city-owned fueling stations. However, the Chicago Park District hopes to set an example and convince others to consider biodiesel.
Since beginning the biodiesel program, Dimitroff said that the district hasn’t seen any management issues related to fuel. However, he recommended working with a knowledgeable supplier and distributor.
With state and federal incentives, Probst noted that using biodiesel can be more affordable than agencies may realize.