Calstart: What you Should Know about Alternative Fuel Vehicles

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