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