Sponsored: Making her Mark on Moline

As the fleets and facilities manager for the city of Moline, Illinois, Sarah Mark is making inroads in greater biodiesel and biobased products usage in the Quad Cities area. This article is sponsored by the B20 Club of Illinois and the American Lung Association.

Case, right, who serves as a biobased consultant for USB, introduces Mark to a host of biobased products to consider for the city of Moline.

Thanks to Ron Kotrba and Biobased Diesel Daily for writing this article.

As fleet and facilities manager for the northwest Illinois city of Moline, part of the Quad Cities metropolitan area, Sarah
Mark has a great deal of responsibility. She is in charge of the acquisition, maintenance and disposal of city assets, both “rolling and fixed.” Essentially, this means all city-owned vehicles and city-occupied buildings.

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Mark has been in this leadership role for the city of Moline since January 2020, initially as the interim fleet manager when her supervisor retired. This past January, she was offered the position full-time. “I’m super excited,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like it’s already been a year-and-a-half. I love it. Every day is something different.”

She began her career in municipal administration at the utility billing division for the city of Ontario, California. After a year-and-a-half, Mark transferred to the city clerk’s office where she crafted agendas and other items for the city council. In 2011, she moved to the Quad Cities metro area and took a job with the city of Moline as a fleet administrative assistant.

“As I became more comfortable doing the job after five-and-a-half years, I asked for more responsibilities and took on more work. I started helping with more of the behind-the-scenes projects and putting together budget information and I received a new title as the fleet and facilities coordinator,” she says.

From there, it was a natural step into the interim and then full-time fleet and facilities manager.

Sarah Mark, the fleet and facilities manager for the city of Moline, Illinois, implements environmentally responsible changes in the municipality’s buildings, vehicles and fuels. But most importantly, she’s having fun doing it.

Ron Kotrba, Biobased Diesel Daily

Advancing the Fleet

With a population of around 42,000, Moline is a small city by most standards. Even so, its rolling fleet consists of more than 300 on- and off-road vehicles and equipment. “It’s a little bit of everything,” Mark says. “From lawn mowers and end loaders to fire apparatus and sanitation trucks—anything you would see in a traditional fleet setting for a municipality, we purchase and maintain.”

Every vehicle in the Moline fleet is managed by the Fleet Maintenance Division. “We run our division like a business,” Mark says. “We charge a lease fee to the departments that utilize the equipment and take those lease fees and put them into a vehicle replacement fund. That way, when vehicles reach the end of their reliable, useful life, we have money allocated to purchase replacements without having to ask the city council to locate funding for us.”

While every day is different with new situations arising and proverbial fires that must be extinguished, Mark says most mornings are threaded with routine elements that make a daily pattern—albeit patchwork at best. “For instance, every morning when I come in, I check the fuel inventory to make sure we have enough fuel. I then meet with our parts and service specialist in order to be brought up to speed on what is in the shop and what is on the schedule for the day,” she says.

Moline not only provides fuel for its city-owned vehicles but also sells fuel to the neighboring community of East Moline and other local institutions.

“We sell fuel to the local community college, school district and housing authority,” Mark says. “We also serve as a backup fueling site for the Rock Island Arsenal, an Army installation. They had an issue with their diesel tanks a while back and, as they were mitigating those issues, they came here to dispense fuel. It’s a really good feeling knowing that we, as well as our customers who purchase fuel from us, are improving air quality regionally.”

The city of Moline was an early, progressive adopter of alternative fuels for its—and neighboring—fleets. The city began using B20, a mix of 80 percent petroleum diesel and 20 percent renewable, sustainable, low-carbon biodiesel in 2005.

“I cannot take any credit for the implementation of B20,” she says. The former fleet manager, J.D. Schulte, made the decision to switch over in 2005 without telling anyone in order to avoid the issue of ghost symptoms arising and being attributed to the new fuel—a not-so-uncommon occurrence resulting from biases against alternative fuels. After a month, with no differences noticed or complaints lodged by staff members, the cat was let out of the bag.

“That’s how the initial switch was made,” Mark says. “Since B20 is a drop-in solution, no infrastructure changes were needed to get rolling.” Naturally, the department stocked extra fuel filters because biodiesel acts as a solvent and helps clean out years of sludge left behind by petroleum diesel fuel. “We were going through a few more filters initially, but we anticipated that,” she says.

Although Mark says she cannot take credit for initially incorporating B20 in the city fleet, she adds, “I did, however, make the case to implement the extended and continued use of B20 all year.” For 15 years, the city had used B20 from mid-March to mid-November and then switched to a winterized straight petroleum diesel fuel for the colder months.

In 2020, before Mark’s promotion to the interim fleet manager, her then supervisor’s retirement was looming. “I took a proactive lead and began helping with fuel oversight,” she says. “I did my research and spoke a lot with my friend and colleague, Bailey Arnold, and presented my boss with the data to move our B20 use to year-round. I knew it made some people a little nervous since we had never done this before, but I was very comfortable with the decision.”

She says Pete Probst with Chicago-based Indigenous Energy, which works with the B20 Club of Illinois, provided solid data and documents needed to begin running B20 all year long. “They gave me the confidence I needed to move forward with it,” Mark says. “As W. Edwards Deming says, ‘In God we trust, all others must bring data.’ The data is there, and you can’t argue with it.” Even during the severe cold snap in February 2021, the winterized B20 posed zero problems for the city of Moline.

“B20 has been proven to not only work in the vehicles we operate, but it also helps reduce our carbon footprint,” Mark says. “With the education provided by the B20 Club, we found it to be the smartest choice we can make for our community. It’s not only sustainable but is also good for the environment and cost-effective.”

Bailey Arnold, a senior manager of Clean Air Initiatives with the American Lung Association and program lead for the B20 Club of Illinois, adds an important point. “Fleets are often hesitant to run biodiesel in equipment such as emergency vehicles and snow plows due to misconceptions around the fuel,” he says. Moline and the outside agencies to which Mark and her team provide fuel, however, power their fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles on B20 year-round. “Moline’s use of B20 year-round is a testament to the quality and performance of the low-carbon biodiesel available today,” he adds.

The relationship between the American Lung Association and the city of Moline was formed years ago, and it has gotten stronger over time. The Illinois Soybean Association and the American Lung Association teamed up in 2015 to launch the B20 Club of Illinois, and since the city of Moline was already using B20 for a decade voluntarily, the city was approached and asked if it would be an inaugural member.

“They were trying to get the club off the ground and since we were already using B20, they thought we could help raise awareness and educate other fleets,” Mark says.

According to Arnold, “The American Lung Association recognizes biodiesel as a Clean Air Choice alternative fuel for its ability to significantly lower criteria pollutants and carbon emissions in existing diesel vehicles.”

Compared to petroleum diesel fuel, EPA data show that biodiesel reduces carcinogenic particulate emissions by nearly 50% while reducing carbon by as much as 86%.

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