Tuesday, April 1, 2014——The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing, hosted in coordination with Transportation Energy Partners (TEP) and NAFA Fleet Management Association, about the strides public and private sector vehicle fleet managers in nearly every state are making in converting to alternative fuels (e.g., biofuels, electricity, natural gas, propane). This was a chance to learn first-hand about why they are converting their fleets, the challenges they face, and the importance of federal and state incentives in overcoming these challenges.
The United States has reduced its oil imports, but still spends $1 billion per day on imported oil. Transportation is responsible for more than 70 percent of all U.S. oil use and over 30 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The number of alternative fuel vehicles in the United States has grown to 1.2 million, but this is less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s fleet. Through the application of innovative technology, American industry has demonstrated that the United States has the opportunity to become a world leader in alternative fuels and related industries, with appropriate Federal policies.
- Richard Battersby, Executive Director, East Bay Clean Cities Coalition (California); Board Member, Transportation Energy Partners; and Director of Fleet Services, University of California-Davis, said using alternative fuels provides huge economic benefits, including the reduction of oil imports: Battersby said the United States spends $1 billion per day on imported oil.
- Battersby explained that Transportation Energy Partners is a nonprofit that provides clean vehicle policy support to the Clean Cities Coalition. The Clean Cities program was created by the Department of Energy to advance the energy, economic, and environmental security of the United States by supporting local actions that reduce petroleum use in transportation. There are over 100 Clean City Coalitions nationwide, bringing together nearly 18,000 stakeholders. Their actions have saved more than 5 billion gallons of petroleum since 1993.
- Strategies used to reduce petroleum usage include reducing the amount of vehicle idling, fuel economy improvements, and new technologies. But alternative fuels are the biggest contributor, representing 72.5 percent of the petroleum saved. Natural gas is the leading alternative fuel (at 60.9 percent), followed by biodiesel (17 percent), ethanol E85 (10.9 percent), propane (7.8 percent) and electricity (3.4 percent).
- Battersby believes that federal research and development in partnership with private firms is critical to developing new technologies. He argued that federal assistance is necessary to deploy new technologies because it takes a great deal of time for technologies to evolve from the lab and take hold in the marketplace.
- Claude T. Masters, Manager of Acquisition and Fuel, Florida Power & Light (FPL), and President, NAFA Fleet Management Association, briefly introduced NAFA Fleet Management Association, a not-for-profit membership organization serving the needs of automotive fleet managers. NAFA has over 3,200 members, with an average fleet size of 2,100 vehicles.
- Masters focused on the extensive experience of the FPL Fleet Alternative Fuel Program with electric hybrids and biodiesel. FPL runs one of the largest green utility fleets in the nation.
- FPL’s light-duty fleet consists of 497 hybrid-electric vehicles (85 percent of its light-duty fleet), 35 plug-in electric vehicles (6 percent), and 28 battery-electric vehicles (5 percent). FPL’s hybrid electric fleet has been ranked as the 8th largest in the nation by Green Fleet Magazine in the May/June 2013 issue.
- In all, FPL's 560 hybrid/electric vehicles represent 23 percent of the company’s car and truck fleet. This is slated to increase to 28 percent in 2014.
- FPL has 1,700 trucks that consume 2 million gallons of B20 biodiesel annually. FPL buys and mixes the biofuel independently. Masters emphasized that FPL is one of the largest users of biodiesel in the Southeast, which has reduced its carbon footprint by 5,000 metric tons of CO2.
- Jeffery L. Jeter, Fleet Manager, Chesterfield County, Virginia, spoke about the economic and environmental benefits of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), a.k.a. propane or autogas. Jeter said that LPG improves air quality and combats climate change, in addition to effectively competing with gasoline prices. For Chesterfield County, operating an LPG vehicle costs on average $3,032 less than operating a gasoline vehicle (over a year).
- Jeter spotlighted the low-cost infrastructure and quick installation of LPG stations, as well as the easy vehicle adaptations. He said an LPG fueling station could be installed within 30-90 days. In contrast, setting up a natural gas station would take 6 months to a year.
- Jeter named five ways in which the development of LPG could be aided by policymakers:
- Return of the tax incentive ($0.50 per gallon purchased).
- Grant funding.
- Funding for adding fueling infrastructures.
- Help Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) produce a bi-fuel vehicle (autogas and gasoline).
- Reduction of red-tape to facilitate local government use of alternative fuels.
- Steven W. Saltzgiver, Vice President of Fleet Management, Republic Services Inc., said natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are cleaner than gasoline-powered ones, can be powered with abundant natural gas sources in North America, and are cheaper because natural gas costs are currently lower than diesel fuel costs.
- The solid waste industry is an ideal market for NGVs: it's large (2 billion gallons a year), has high fuel consumption per vehicle, and the vehicles return to a centralized base where they can be refueled (minimizing the need for infrastructure investments).
- Saltzgiver highlighted Republic Services’ experience with operating NGVs since 1995. Republic Services has over 1,800 natural gas trucks and a total of 31 fueling stations nationwide (including 10 built in 2013 alone).
- Saltzgiver explained that NGVs benefit the environment because they emit 85 percent less NOx emissions (NOx is one of the contributors to smog) and 23 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. He emphasized that NGVs also have the advantage of running more quietly and not emanating foul odors, which are huge perks for customers as well. Last but not least, they can be more economical to run than diesel or gasoline vehicles.
- In addition to using natural gas, fleet vehicles can also lower their fuel consumption and emissions by better training drivers, optimizing routes, and by recovering vehicles' kinetic energy during braking and decelerating. Hybrid-electric and fully electric vehicles also have potential, provided battery weight issues can be addressed.
- Not all fleets will be good candidates for NGV. Location is critically important (being near a natural gas distribution line), as is a progressive regulatory environment.
- During the question and answer session, the discussion focused on the short term future of alternative fuels including landfill gas and vehicle electrification. Battersby noted the Altamont landfill (East Bay), where 13,000 gallons of biogas fuel is produced per day from trash brought in by trash trucks, which then refuel using the biogas produced by the landfill. Saltzgiver stated that his company has 70 landfill-to-gas projects underway, and has begun a partnership to test battery technologies, where the biggest issue is being able to add the weight of the battery without significantly reducing the truck’s trash weight capacity.
- An insightful question from Senator Heitkamp’s office generated a discussion about the applicability of natural gas–electric hybrid technology to the trash industry due to the high rate of vehicle stops and starts. Masters called on manufacturers (OEMs) to incorporate more stop/start (regenerative braking) technology on heavy-duty vehicles. Doing so would increase fuel efficiency by 20-30 percent and significantly reduce the frequency of brake pad replacements, which cost $5,000-$10,000 each. Saltzgiver stated that that alone would be a “big win,” as some trucks currently require brake replacements every 8 months.
- Battersby stated that fuel cells are an attractive technology too, particularly in California, where the number of hydrogen refueling stations is expected to increase from the current 20 to 61 by 2015. The first light-duty fuel cell vehicle releases are expected in 2015, but are oriented to non-fleet light duty vehicles.
- Battersby also plugged the useful tools on DOE EERE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center web site.