Calstart: What you Should Know about Alternative Fuel Vehicles

by Jon LeSage

Bill Van Amburg, Senior Vice Pres­i­dent at Cal­start, the nation’s lead­ing clean trans­porta­tion tech­nol­o­gy orga­ni­za­tion, pre­sent­ed a com­pre­hen­sive overview of alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cles and high effi­cien­cy vehi­cles recent­ly dur­ing the NAFA I&E con­fer­ence in Atlantic City, NJ. Cal­start worked close­ly with NAFA I&E orga­niz­ers to con­duct work­shops on alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cles and tech­nolo­gies each day at the con­fer­ence.

Here are some highlight’s from Van Amburg’s pre­sen­ta­tion:

Effi­cien­cy is King: in inter­nal com­bus­tion engine vehi­cles as automak­ers get clos­er to the 54.5 mpg by 2025 stan­dard. Tur­bocharged vehi­cles are com­ing to the US mar­ket, and mul­ti-speed trans­mis­sions are also increas­ing fuel econ­o­my. On the com­mer­cial vehi­cle side, low rolling resis­tance tires is the main focus for fuel effi­cient trucks. At this point, we’re only see­ing the front end of the new tech­nol­o­gy for pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial vehi­cles.

Ethanol:  While there’s been a lot of atten­tion placed on ethanol price going up dur­ing the drought sea­son – 40% of corn pro­duced in the US last year went to ethanol – the fuel price has been drop­ping late­ly. Ethanol doesn’t appear to be dri­ving gaso­line prices up. With the Fed­er­al Renew­able Fuel stan­dard, advanced bio­fu­els are get­ting atten­tion, such as cel­lu­losic ethanol, but it’s still slow to come to mar­ket. Biodiesel is see­ing more move­ment for­ward as a “drop in fuel” as E10 diesel is being used more with 10% biodiesel.

Nat­ur­al Gas: There’s a lot more nat­ur­al gas avail­able in North Amer­i­ca now through ener­gy secu­ri­ty actions and hydraulic frac­tur­ing (“frack­ing”), and the sup­ply has kept prices down. There’s a lot more vehi­cles com­ing to mar­ket now – GM with bi-fuel vehi­cles and Ford through its QVM part­ner con­ver­sion com­pa­nies (includ­ing an upcom­ing Ford Tran­sit Con­nect). The Dodge Ram 2500 CNG ver­sion is anoth­er option on the mar­ket. Most of the major medi­um and heavy duty truck mak­ers are bring­ing nat­ur­al gas vehi­cles to mar­ket, with Cum­mins play­ing a lead­ing role in CNG and LNG ver­sions.

Bio­methane:  There’s a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ty for this very clean vehi­cle fuel, but it’s still in ear­ly stages. Waste Man­age­ment is play­ing a lead­ing role in devel­op­ing the tech­nol­o­gy and Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board says it’s the clean­est alter­na­tive fuel on the mar­ket, well-to-wheels – even low­er on the list than hydro­gen. It comes from land­fills, manure, and from nat­ur­al gas. It’s a big part of nat­ur­al gas’ poten­tial, Van Amburg said, as it can blend in renew­ables.

Elec­tric Vehi­cles and Hybrids: The pas­sen­ger car side has seen a wave of bat­tery elec­tric and plug-in hybrid vehi­cles hit the mar­ket. With light duty vehi­cles and heav­ier com­mer­cial vehi­cles, there’s always con­cern about the life of the lithi­um ion bat­tery packs – their expense, recy­cling, reuse, after­mar­ket use; they might be used as renew­able ener­gy stor­age units at some point. They tend to have about 80% capac­i­ty for sec­ond life appli­ca­tions and are gain­ing inter­est for usage in cell phone tow­ers, solar pan­els, and wind farms. This could give them 10 to 15 more years of life. As for com­mer­cial vehi­cles, there’s a lot more prod­uct on the mar­ket now through Smith Elec­tric, EVI, Via, ALTe, Quan­tum, XL Hybrid, Hino Trucks, Odyne, and oth­er com­pa­nies.

Hydro­gen Fuel Cell Vehi­cles: The tech­nol­o­gy is great, but light pas­sen­ger fuel cell vehi­cles still are a ways off. Hon­da, Gen­er­al Motors, and Toy­ota are active in the space but are pret­ty silent about it. There will be some launch­es in 2015, but not in high num­bers. On the commercial/industrial side, fork lifts are tak­ing off. Bat­ter­ies are being replaced with fuel cell stacks – no recharge is need­ed. Tran­sit bus­es are using fuel cells quite a bit in gov­ern­ment test projects. The life­cy­cle is good and the dura­bil­i­ty is going way up. It’s still fair­ly expen­sive over­all.

Source: Fleet Man­age­ment Week­ly

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