El Milagro Case Study El Milagro Case Study
El Milagro, Inc. — Chicago, Ill.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTION
When the city of Chicago mandated that fleets with more than 10 vehicles run at least 10 percent of their vehicles on alternative fuels, El Milagro took advantage of incentives to convert its fleet to clean, low-emission propane autogas. The company, which operates converted Isuzu N-Series trucks, has been running on propane autogas for more than 15 years.
- On-site refueling dispensers cut costs and eliminate downtime for delivery drivers.
- The company pays 50 percent less per gallon for fuel compared with gasoline and diesel.
- Reduced emissions with propane autogas exempt El Milagro’s fleet from Chicago emissions testing.
El Milagro is a tortilla products manufacturer based in Chicago, Ill. The 64-year-old, family-owned company produces corn and flour tortillas, tostadas, chips, and taco shells. The company’s fleet of delivery vans transports products from its corn and flour manufacturing facilities in Chicago to customers in surrounding suburbs and north to Milwaukee, Wis. In total, El Milagro operates approximately 80 vehicles at its locations in Illinois, Georgia, and Texas. The company’s 55-vehicle Chicago fleet has operated on propane autogas since 1998.
AN EARLY ALT FUEL ADOPTER
El Milagro is a long-time user of propane autogas and first decided to try alternative fuels after the city of Chicago implemented new emissions standards in the late 1990s. At the time, El Milagro hired a third-party retrofitter to install a conversion kit on one of its gas-powered Isuzu trucks.
“We received notice from the state of Illinois that any fleet registered in the city of Chicago with more than 10 vehicles needed to have 10 percent of its vehicles running on an alternative fuel,” Bobby Morales, sales and distribution manager with El Milagro, said. “The city also put out an incentive to convert vehicles to run on alternative fuels and paid for 80 percent of the conversions.”
El Milagro has converted an average of two to three vehicles per year to propane autogas and currently operates a 55-vehicle alternative fuel fleet. In 2012, the company converted its entire fleet to new Isuzu trucks with Bi-Phase conversions, a system pioneered and tested by another long-time propane user: Schwan’s Home Service. The trucks are configured with a 16-foot van body and make deliveries to grocery stores and small- to medium-sized retailers all over Chicagoland.
To service its large bi-fuel fleet, the company installed on-site infrastructure and a dispenser at one of its two corn and flour manufacturing sites. El Milagro’s propane fuel provider covered the costs of two 800-gallon propane tanks and a dispenser, which Morales says has been one of the biggest benefits of the switch.
“A big advantage with propane is we can pump here at our own facility and don’t lose time going out to gas stations,” Morales said. “The infrastructure was 100 percent taken care of by our supplier who installed equipment at the facility at no cost. They own the tanks and pumps and we pay nothing for the equipment. If something breaks down, they come fix it without us spending a dime.”
GOING THE “PROPANE WAY”
Fuel savings with propane autogas has been the biggest payoff for El Milagro. Morales reports the company saves an average of 50 percent on fuel with propane autogas compared with gasoline. Additionally, the state of Illinois has offered fuel incentives to save even more.
“We save a lot of money on fuel,” Morales said. “Propane prices here fluctuate just like gasoline, but they are a little less than half what gasoline is at any given time. On top of that, the state had a rebate of 50 cents per gallon to use propane [autogas], saving us even more.”
The combination of incentives and city wide alternative fuel programs has helped Chicago become a leader in emissions reductions. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, Illinois has 336 public alternative refueling stations, more than 100 of which are propane autogas. As public infrastructure for alternative fuels in and around the city grows, companies like El Milagro have taken advantage of reduced emissions testing and greater convenience while refueling en route.
“Now that propane is being sold in almost every city around us and in the suburbs, it’s one of the main advantages we have and is one more thing we keep in mind as we grow,” Morales said.
A HIGH MILEAGE, LOW MAINTENANCE FLEET
El Milagro puts a lot of miles on its vehicles, running them for five years and about 240,000 miles. “Some routes have stops every five to 10 minutes and others drive 10 to 15 miles to the next stop to deliver our products to grocery stores, retailers, and mom-and-pop stores,” said Alex Camarrena, route supervisor at El Milagro.
Proven performance over the last 15 years with propane has translated into added value under the hood for the company. El Milagro reports maintenance has not been an issue with its propane-autogas- powered vans, and that it now can predict vehicle upkeep needs.
“The plugs in the vehicles and some other parts do last longer [with propane] than with gasoline,” Morales said. “We still do the regular maintenance, but you don’t have to replace those parts as often. For instance, with plugs you typically have to change them every 30,000 miles [with gasoline], but you can go 60,000 miles with propane.”
El Milagro initially had to overcome misconceptions about alternative fuels, particularly the notion that propane autogas wouldn’t perform well in Chicago’s winter. However, according to Camarrena, propane autogas has performed “especially well,” even with demanding payloads.
“The new systems have been working just fine and we have no performance problems. They run just as great as gasoline and we don’t see a difference with or without heavy loads,” said Camarrena.