Chicago Area Clean Cities recognizes Sustainable Transportation Leadership awardees

UIC Director Dr. Elizabeth Kócs awarded for community leadership

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The Chicago coalition’s Clean Fuels Champion award has been presented annually since 2001 to an individual, organization, or business that champions the promotion of alternative fuels and technologies to reduce vehicle emissions and reduce petroleum usage. Recent recipients include ComEd, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Pace Suburban Bus, American Lung Association, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Testa Produce, and Ozinga Bros, Inc.

Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition (CACC) has announced its 2021 Leadership Award winners. The awards are given annually to organizations and individuals that take actions to locally reduce vehicle emissions and improve air quality.

This year’s awardees include Rivian, Ozinga, Cook-Illinois Corporation, Trillium, and the B20 Club.

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Dr. Elizabeth A. Kócs, director for Partnerships and Strategy at University of Illinois Chicago’s Energy Initiative, was recognized with a Community Leadership Award for her work in advancing emissions-reducing electric vehicle technologies.

“Rivian, Ozinga, Cook-Illinois Corporation, Trillium, B20 Club, and Dr. Kócs are exceptional examples for others to follow,” Samantha Bingham, clean transportation program director for the Chicago Department of Transportation and co-coordinator of Chicago Area Clean Cities, said. “Their efforts reduce vehicle emissions that cause air pollution and climate change. They’re helping to make the air we breathe cleaner and healthier for all and the world a better place.”

The awards were presented at the coalition’s Annual Meeting and Holiday Reception held Tuesday at Danada House in Wheaton. Award winners include:

Clean Transportation Award: Cook-Illinois Corporation

Under President and Chief Operating Officer John Benish, Jr.’s leadership, Cook-Illinois Corporation was the first in Illinois to voluntarily switch an entire bus fleet to blends up to 20% biodiesel (B20).

Benish led efforts to implement buses powered by a suite of alternative fuels and technologies, including new technology diesel engines, electricity (EV), propane and 100% biodiesel (B100). He also created the Clean Air Bus, the first-ever clean-air mobile museum for children and led the creation of a mobile farmers market to combat food insecurity in the Chicago area.

Benish is an inaugural member of the B20 Club of Illinois and a long-standing member of Chicago Area Clean Cities. Benish spearheaded efforts to provide sustainable transportation options to Chicago-area school districts to protect the health of students and benefit the environment. Today, Cook-Illinois Corporation’s fleet of school buses is among the greenest in the nation.

EV Leadership Award: Rivian

Electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian received CACC’s EV Leadership Award. Rivian creates energy and transportation products and services with the goal of helping electrify the world. The company designs, develops and manufactures category-defining electric vehicles and accessories and sells them directly to customers in the consumer and commercial markets.

Rivian complements its vehicles with a full suite of proprietary, value-added services that address the entire lifecycle of the vehicle and deepen its customer relationships. The company began customer deliveries of its R1T truck in September 2021. Rivian employs more than 3,000 workers at its plant in Normal, Illinois.

Leadership in Public Service: B20 Club

Since 2014, B20 Club members have consumed more than 30 million gallons of B20 and higher biodiesel blends, contributing to cleaner air and more sustainable operations throughout Illinois.

A partnership between the Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program and the American Lung Association, the B20 Club recognizes a select group of Illinois-based organizations with strong commitments to run fleets on biodiesel blends of 20% or greater. These diverse Illinois-based commercial and government fleets rely on B20 biodiesel and higher biodiesel blends to fuel their vehicles.

B20 Club members in Illinois include Ag-Land FS, Al Warren Oil Co, Inc., CityLink (Greater Peoria Mass Transit District), Cook-Illinois Corporation, City of Elmhurst, City of Moline, Village of Arlington Heights, Village of Carol Stream, Village of Oak Park, Chicago Park District, ComEd, Lake County Division of Transportation, Green Grease Environmental, Excel Oil Service, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Ozinga, G&D Integrated, SK Davison and R&N Trucking.

Public-Private Partnership Award: Trillium

Trillium, a leading provider of alternative fueling systems and renewable fuels, operates more than 200 CNG stations throughout the U.S.

In late 2020, the City of Naperville, along with Trillium and Groot Industries, opened Naperville’s first public compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station. Trillium built the CNG station with the help of a $300,000 Drive Clean Chicago grant secured by the city in 2016. The city’s refuse and recycling contractor, Groot Industries, agreed to a long-term gas purchase agreement with Trillium, making the project more viable for all parties involved.

The station, which is open 24-hours a day, features multiple CNG dispensers for light- and heavy-duty fueling. In addition to use by city vehicles, refuse trucks from Groot and other CNG fleets operating in and around Naperville, the station is also available to the public. Naperville’s vehicle fleet currently includes vehicles that run on CNG. Over three years, Groot is transitioning more than 20 of its 75 contractor vehicles from diesel fuel to CNG, with the goal of 30% of its fleet running on CNG by next year.

Above and Beyond Award: Ozinga Energy

Ozinga Bros. is a fourth-generation, family-owned company providing ready mix concrete, building materials, logistics and alternative fuel solutions since 1928. Ozinga has more than 200 ready-mix concrete mixers running on renewable natural gas and another 600 on 20% biodiesel (B20) in the Chicagoland area.

Over the last decade, Ozinga Energy, a subsidiary of Ozinga Bros., has successfully served many fleets in the greater Chicago area by providing compressed natural gas (CNG) as a clean alternative to gasoline and diesel fuels. This has helped a variety of fleets reduce emissions in vehicles ranging from Class 8 tractor-trailers to small passenger cars. Many are local delivery trucks, taxis, national carriers and even local college students’ cars. 

Ozinga Energy takes this commitment very seriously, working hard since 2012 to build the largest fueling network around Chicago. Part of this has included building up a robust maintenance team that is hardworking, reliable and highly trained to keep everything running smoothly.

In 2018, Ozinga Energy made a big step to honor its commitment to customers, the community and the environment by securing renewable natural gas (RNG). All Ozinga stations, both public and private, are contracted to supply RNG. This RNG is being produced every day from decomposing landfill trash and is now used to replace traditional fuel consumption throughout Ozinga’s stations. This is a great benefit to fleets, as they are consuming carbon-negative fuel and doing their part to help reduce harmful emissions.

Community Leadership Award: Dr. Elizabeth A. Kócs

Dr. Elizabeth A. Kócs, director for partnerships and strategy at UIC Energy Initiative, led the 2020 UIC Beneficial Electrification Workshops and published the report, “Guiding Principles for Beneficial Electrification of Transportation: A Framework for Transportation Electrification in Illinois” in February 2021, which addresses electric vehicle adoption and deployment in Illinois and supports advances in transportation electrification for the State of Illinois.

Dr. Kócs leads energy and sustainability programs and initiatives on transportation, storage and smart cities through her work at UIC Energy Initiative including leading student consulting groups each spring on community and university-related sustainable mobility projects. She has advised UIC Energy Initiative’s partners, including ComEd, Community Charging, UIC Planning, Sustainability & Project Management – Office of Sustainability and Transportation Planning offices and EV carsharing startup InnovaEV, a new partner for 2022.

She also serves as the faculty advisor for the E2S Climate Hub where she provides insight into climate issues for the hub to address. She has been leading the Future of Mobility workshops for the last four years, which have been hosted by the International Smart Cities Symposium.

Dr. Kócs’ work is well regarded by her public and private sector colleagues across Illinois, the Midwest region and nationally, as she continues to engage in public dialogues on clean transportation.

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