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Chicago-area school buses transport children on 100% clean-burning biodiesel


Photo: Optimus Technologies

Cook-Illinois Corp., which operates one of the largest family-owned and operated school-bus fleets, has transitioned a portion of its Illinois-based fleet to run on 100 percent biodiesel (B100).


B100 is a cleaner-burning, low-carbon fuel that drastically reduces vehicles’ planet-warming greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and particulate air pollutants. It lowers carbon emissions, contributes to cleaner air, and reduces reliance on foreign fuel by utilizing biodiesel made from domestically produced sources.

This biodiesel-powered school-bus fleet is a partnership with Cook-Illinois Corp., the American Lung Association, the Illinois Soybean Association, Chevron Renewable Energy Group, and Optimus Technologies.


Optimus Technologies is a Pittsburgh-based clean energy startup and manufacturer of the Vector System, an advanced fuel system technology that can upgrade any medium- or heavy-duty diesel engine and allow it to run on B100.

As schools around the country are back in motion, the discussion around sustainable transportation becomes even more important. Biodiesel, traditionally made from waste fats and oils, is a clean-burning fuel that is safer for the environment, and safer for kids.


Cook-Illinois Corp. has been a leader in adopting alternative fuel and energy options for its vehicles. It was the first bus-service company in the area to adopt biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel, and one of the first nationally to do so as well.

Biodiesel reduces hydrocarbons in exhaust fumes by more than 30 percent and decreases carbon dioxide emissions by over 90 percent. It also decreases particulate matter by more than 50 percent.


Children exposed to the fumes and chemicals of petroleum diesel on a regular basis have a higher chance of developing negative respiratory conditions like asthma. According to a study conducted by Trinity Consultants, switching to 100 percent biodiesel provides a 45 percent reduction in cancer risk when used in heavy-duty vehicles, and can save nearly $3 billion on health and medical costs annually. School buses exclusively operate in residential areas impacting families and children, so using safer and healthier fuels makes a huge difference in these communities.

“Using B100 as a replacement for petroleum diesel is an easy way to reduce tailpipe and lifecycle emissions in diesel vehicles,” said Bailey Arnold, director of clean-air initiatives for the American Lung Association and lead for the B20 Club of Illinois. “We are excited to partner with Cook-Illinois and Optimus to bring cleaner fuels and technologies to the Chicago area. This project highlights the growing opportunity to implement B100 in existing diesel vehicles to combat climate change and improve air quality. This is especially important in under-resourced communities that are often disproportionately affected by transportation emissions and climate-related disasters.”

Colin Huwyler, CEO of Optimus Technologies, added, “Cook-Illinois has been an exciting project for Optimus to work on. This is our first time installing the Vector System on school buses. Bringing cleaner air that benefits the community and the environment is part of Optimus’ core mission. Reducing emissions for school buses that primarily run in neighborhoods with children and families is paramount to improving the health and safety of these communities.”

Helping to further save costs, biodiesel extends the life of engines. The higher cetane in biodiesel leads to a shorter ignition time and better combustion than petroleum diesel. Its increased lubricity reduces friction on engine parts and its lower soot generation fills the diesel particulate filter much slower, and can therefore lead to less frequent regeneration than ultra-low sulfur diesel. This means the buses last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often.


The Vector System can also be retrofitted into existing vehicles, helping schools to avoid costly upgrades, or needing to buy new fleets to meet sustainability initiatives.

“We have used biodiesel in our school buses for almost 15 years,” said John Benish, president and chief operating officer of Cook-Illinois Corp. Benish also serves as a Bio Ambassador, an outreach program of the United Soybean Board.


“We were one of the first companies in the U.S. to use almost exclusively B11, B20 and now power some of our buses with B100,” he said. “Cook-Illinois maximizes all of the benefits of biodiesel for the children we transport and our environment. We could not be happier with the convenience and confidence we have with biodiesel.”

Using fuels that are healthier for people also creates a healthier environment. With around 440,000 school buses transporting more than 25 million children across the U.S., these heavy-duty vehicles make a significant impact on the planet. Using locally sourced biodiesel has a lower carbon and emissions footprint than its petroleum counterpart. School districts can also reap the benefits of lower costs when using local fuels and accessing tax breaks, emission-reduction funding, and other government incentives for sustainability.

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