Fleets of the Present and Future

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Ed Burke reports on Alt Wheels Fleet Day

By Ed Burke, Dennis K. Burke Inc.

The recent AltWheels Fleet Day event attracted New England fleet managers to Norwood, Mass., for a full day of guest speakers along with panels of fleet managers sharing their fleet’s alternative fuel experiences. There were discussion groups with OEM representatives, and presentations on cost-effective solutions to greening your fleet.

AltWheels is a non-profit organization created in 2003 by Alison Sander and Steve Connors to “help build a sustainable energy vision for the 21st century.” The group promotes all alternative fuels and technologies, so if it improves mileage or reduces emissions, then you’ll probably see it at AltWheels.

At this year’s event, there were dozens of vehicles on display outdoors that use alternative fuels or green technology. We walked along truck alley with Connors to snap a few pictures, get a closer look under the hood, and talk with the drivers about their vehicle’s performance.

Continue reading to see how technology and alternative fuels have advanced over the past 10 years, and get a glimpse at what’s to come.

Biofuels and the RFS

Back when AltWheels started, biodiesel’s ability to reduce emissions without engine modification or infrastructure made it a popular niche fuel. Since then, with better quality tests and standards, biodiesel’s quality has improved. Today there are 488 private and 296 public biodiesel (B20 and above) fueling sites in the U.S.

As for ethanol, there was a lot of enthusiasm with the introduction of E85 ethanol Flex-Fuel vehicles, but the lack of fueling locations has been the biggest hurdle for consumers. Whether it’s low consumer interest or regional supply issues, E85 Flex-Fuel is still tough to find in New England. Currently there are 306 private and 2,400 public E85 fueling stations across the U.S.

Today, due to the requirements of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), biodiesel and ethanol are both pretty much mainstream products. Biodiesel blends are available at most racks, and mandated E10 gasoline is available everywhere.

Compressed natural Gas (CNG) Vehicles

The variety of CNG-powered vehicles on the road is impressive. Today, nearly 60 percent of all new refuse or recycling trucks are ordered with the CNG option. In the transportation market, 25 percent of all new buses are ordered with the CNG option. Most people would agree that CNG is poised to become the dominant alternative fuel over the next few years.

A big plus for CNG – the new Cummins Westport heavy-duty CNG engines have “no maintenance” exhaust systems with no particulate filters, exhaust fluids, or other exhaust treatments.

CNG delivers lower emissions and measurable cost savings and is domestically produced. The issue for most fleet managers considering CNG is infrastructure. Is it cost-effective to build a private CNG fueling station, or are there public CNG stations nearby?

The number of stations being built has grown dramatically over the past few years. About 250 public and private CNG stations opened this year, with about 300 more expected next year. Currently there are 695 private and 776 public CNG fueling stations across the U.S.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Trucks

Who operates the largest LNG-powered fleet in the Northeast? That would be Gulf Oil. With 44 LNG tractors that each travel over 100,000 miles per year, the company has built up significant experience since 2012, when they began converting their fleet to LNG.

Operating LNG trucks has not only enabled Gulf to reduce emissions and fuel costs but serves to demonstrate to potential fleet customers both the operation and fuel-cost savings. Gulf currently fills other LNG fleets at their private stations in Providence, Chelsea and New Haven. They are also actively marketing LNG supply, transportation and distribution of product. There are 41 private and 64 LNG fueling stations across the U.S.

Autogas Vehicles

What is the third most widely used vehicle fuel in the world? The answer is Autogas, with over 17 million autogas-powered vehicles globally.

Propane, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is called Autogas when used as a motor fuel. It reduces emissions and is 90 percent domestically produced. Autogas is an ideal alternative fuel for many fleet managers because it costs less than gasoline and has lower infrastructure costs.

The list of trucks that can be converted to autogas is growing. School districts can choose from a selection of Type A and Type C autogas-powered buses developed by industry-leading manufacturers. Ford and GM offer light-duty trucks and vans with dedicated autogas fuel systems.

There are currently 255 private and 2,690 public Autogas fueling stations across the U.S.

Electric Vehicles (EV)

There’s a lot of excitement in the EV world. There’s a larger selection of electric-powered cars, the vehicles have more range, prices are coming down (with a nifty federal tax credit), and sales are growing. Last year at this time, Massachusetts had barely 1,000 electric vehicles on the road; and today there are over 4,200.

EV charging stations are popping up everywhere. In 2009, Massachusetts had seven charging stations, and today across the state there are 242 public charging stations, representing 645 charge points. Across the U.S. there are 10,639 public and private charging stations, representing 25,415 charging points.

The EV market is growing. GM just announced another all-electric vehicle by 2017, and Chrysler will start producing an electric minivan over the next two years.

Who deploys North America’s largest fleet of all-electric trucks? That would be Frito-Lay, with close to 300 electric trucks in operation across the U.S. and Canada.

Operating electric trucks offer significant lower fuel costs, along with virtually silent operation, eliminating noise pollution.

The all-electric trucks deliver a top speed of 55 mph, offers a range of 50 to 150 miles on a single charge, with a payload of over 16,000 pounds. It operates at peak effectiveness in urban applications that demand heavy “stop-and-go” driving.

Non-Battery Hybrid Vehicles

The Kinetics Hybrid could be the next generation of “light” parallel electric hybrid power systems for class 3-7 buses and light trucks. The system bolts-on to the vehicle’s frame and the motor attaches to the driveline. No changes are made to the vehicle’s electronics or transmission. The system improves fuel efficiency, reduces emissions by 30 percent and dramatically reduces wear and tear on the brakes.

Rather than losing braking energy to heat, the Kinetics Hybrid stores that energy in long-life ultracapacitors instead of batteries. Regenerative braking assists in the slow-down of vehicle from 35 MPH to stop. The Kinetics Hybrid motor engages on the driveline to take pressure off the vehicle’s brakes and steadily build torque in the hybrid motor.

Traditional engines are most inefficient at low speeds, from 0 to 30 MPH. The Kinetics Hybrid releases stored energy during vehicle launch for a boost you can feel, as well as a measurable reduction in both the fuel used and emissions produced.

Lightning Hybrids offers hydraulic hybrid drive systems for fleet vehicles in several vehicle weight classes and platforms, with any fuel type. The system provides a quick payback for vehicles with a heavy start-stop drive cycles, reducing fuel costs and emissions.

The system is a “piggy back” system, added to the drivetrain without modifying any major components. The hybrid drive gearbox is installed in place of an OEM U-joint, and a shorter drive shaft is installed. The OEM brake pedal is replaced with a two-stage mechanical actuator.

Hydraulic hybrids deliver more power for acceleration and provide smoother braking in fleet vehicles like shuttle buses, delivery vehicles and work trucks.

AltWheels Future

The alternative fuels market has been growing at a faster pace. As for AltWheels, they will continue providing fleet owners with the resources they need in deciding what works best for their fleet to keep improving mileage, cutting emissions, and reducing fuel costs.

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