ACT Expo 2014 Sees Strong Attendance and Broad Platform for Alternative Fuels, Technologies

Jon LeSage-car

By Jon LeSage, Edi­tor, Green Auto Market

Alter­na­tive, clean trans­porta­tion appears to be gain­ing sup­port – as evi­denced last week dur­ing ACT Expo 2014 at the Long Beach, Calif., con­ven­tion cen­ter. Now in its fourth year since incep­tion, the conference’s atten­dance was up – per­haps as many as 4,000 atten­dees, mak­ing it the largest event of its type in the US and per­haps the world. ACT Expo keynote speak­ers, work­shops, ride and drive, and an expanded exhibit hall, fea­tured the lat­est in alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cle tech­nol­ogy, the reg­u­la­tory envi­ron­ment, and cost-benefit analy­sis by fleets.

ACT Expo has become some­thing of a broad plat­form for fuels, vehi­cles and tech­nolo­gies of all types to be well rep­re­sented, and for stake­hold­ers in these indus­tries to net­work. The Amer­i­can Truck­ing Asso­ci­a­tions worked with orga­niz­ers of the event for the first time this year; NAFA Fleet Man­age­ment Asso­ci­a­tion also played a key orga­niz­ing role along with the US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities, the US Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA), and the EPA’s Smart­Way Trans­port Partnership.

Another inno­va­tion launched this year was co-located events. Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil was one of the lead­ing spon­sors of the event and held its “Lead the Way” propane auto­gas sum­mit; NGV Global held its annual con­fer­ence in tan­dem with ACT Expo and led a Tech­ni­cal Forum; Cal­i­for­nia Hydro­gen Busi­ness Coun­cil held its spring sum­mit there; “Alter­na­tive Fuel Toolkit for Local Gov­ern­ments, Fleet Man­agers, and Employ­ers Work­shop” was pre­sented by another lead­ing spon­sor, South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict; and “Women in Alter­na­tive Clean Trans­porta­tion Sum­mit” was orga­nized by ACT Expo man­age­ment firm Glad­stein, Nean­dross & Asso­ciates. There were a few field trip events coor­di­nated with ACT Expo as well, includ­ing a heavy-duty nat­ural gas tour with site vis­its to the Clean Energy sta­tion at Port of Long Beach and the Waste Man­age­ment Car­son sta­tion fea­tur­ing LNG and CNG fueling.

The kick­off keynote speaker dur­ing Tuesday’s lun­cheon was Den­nis Sla­gle, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent group truck sales & mar­ket­ing Amer­i­cas, Volvo Group. The truck man­u­fac­turer aims to be the world leader in sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion through its Volvo, Mack, UD, Pre­vost, Novobus, and other heavy duty truck and bus brands. Volvo oper­ates a com­pre­hen­sive green vehi­cle port­fo­lio in trans­port with nat­ural gas, clean diesel, dimethyl ether (DME), and bi-fuel vehi­cles. Volvo is work­ing with Cum­mins on bring­ing in a 13 liter LNG engine next year. Sla­gle called for a com­mon sense reg­u­la­tory approach in Wash­ing­ton, and asked for renewal of expired tax incentives.

Erik Nean­dross, CEO of event orga­nizer Glad­stein, Nean­dross & Asso­ciates, led a panel right after Slagle’s pre­sen­ta­tion fea­tur­ing promi­nent lead­ers in the indus­try. Clean Energy Fuels pres­i­dent and CEO Andrew Lit­tle­fair gave some inter­est­ing sta­tis­tics includ­ing heavy duty trucks using 25 bil­lion gal­lons of nat­ural gas last year, tak­ing the lead, by far, as a user cat­e­gory. There are 19 mil­lion nat­ural gas vehi­cles in oper­a­tion glob­ally today, but only 142,000 are in the US. There is a lot hap­pen­ing out there, and Lit­tle­fair made ref­er­ence to super­mar­ket giant Kroger’s announce­ment that day on how it replaced 40 diesel trucks with that same amount of LNG trucks in Oregon.

Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) pres­i­dent and CEO Roy Willis said that in addi­tion to light and medium duty trucks, propane is being widely used in mate­r­ial han­dling, gen­er­a­tors, irri­ga­tion, and land­scap­ing (such as mow­ers). There are about 600,000 propane-powered fork­lifts in oper­a­tion in the US. There are about 140,000 propane-powered pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial vehi­cles on US roads; as for sales, there were about 14,000 units sold in the US last year (about half OEM and half con­ver­sion); 75% are light duty (mostly pick­ups and police cars) and 25% are medium duty includ­ing school buses. PERC fore­casts that there will about 18,500 propane auto­gas vehi­cles sold in the US this year and about 25,000 in 2015. In a sep­a­rate inter­view, Willis said there’s a strong sense of momen­tum being expe­ri­enced in propane auto­gas, even with expi­ra­tion of the fuel tax credit at the end of 2013. Direct injec­tion engines are hold­ing a lot of promise; Willis talked about the PERC project with South­west Research Insti­tute, Ford, Gen­eral Motors, and Hyundai on direct injection.

National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe talked about the ongo­ing bat­tle in Wash­ing­ton – and how oil indus­try spokes­peo­ple are lob­by­ing with mis­in­for­ma­tion about the Renew­able Fuel Stan­dard (with exam­ples being shown in video seg­ments) while also cov­er­ing up their abun­dant fed­eral sub­si­dies. States are open­ing up to biodiesel such as Min­nesota man­dat­ing that 10% of its diesel will soon be biodiesel. Via Motors chair­man of the board Bob Lutz cham­pi­oned the break­throughs elec­tric vehi­cles are on the cusp of expe­ri­enc­ing. He said that next-gen, lithium-sulfur bat­ter­ies will have five times as much energy den­sity as lithium-ion batteries.

Alex Fre­itag, direc­tor of diesel sys­tems engi­neer­ing at Robert Bosch, led a panel on light-duty diesel as a grow­ing alter­na­tive. The 20% to 30% of fuel effi­ciency gains, along with huge reduc­tions in NOx, hydro­car­bons and par­tic­u­late mat­ter, have made diesel-powered vehi­cles much more viable for fleets and for con­sumers in the US. Mike McGarry, fleet prod­uct plan­ning man­ager and green fleet sup­port at Gen­eral Motors, and William Craven, gen­eral man­ager of reg­u­la­tory affairs at Daim­ler AG/Mercedes-Benz, dis­cussed invest­ments OEMs are mak­ing in clean diesel options. Advance­ments are being made in diesel tech­nol­ogy, Fre­itag said, includ­ing ther­mo­dy­namic opti­miza­tion, tur­bocharg­ers, idle reduc­tion, and stop-start sys­tems. As for biodiesel, OEMs are sup­port­ive of the alter­na­tive fuel but need to feel con­fi­dent in the qual­ity of the fuel before they embrace it, McGarry and Craven said.

ACT Expo 2014 hosted a ride and drive on Wednes­day after­noon last week. Vehi­cles included an EVI medium-duty elec­tric truck and a VIA Motors eRev extended range van; a propane-powered Ford E-Series van; fuel cell vehi­cles such as the Mer­cedes F-Cell and Honda FCX Clar­ity; nat­ural gas vehi­cles such as the Honda Civic Nat­ural Gas and Volvo VNL CNG trac­tor; and two clean diesel vehi­cles – the Chevro­let Cruze Turbo Diesel and Chrysler Jeep Grand Chero­kee with EcoDiesel.