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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management > Trucking & Logistics for Efficiency, Fuel Savings, and Air Quality

Technology and alternative fuels are changing fleet management to meet new laws

Technology and alternative fuels are changing fleet management to meet new laws

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shipping and logistics include ships rail and trucking Freight carriers and equipment suppliers are under more pressure run fuel-efficient operations and reduce dependence on crude oil. Alternatives include biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas and propane.

American politicians and the public want to reduce the nation's dependence on imported petroleum and there's a growing movement to reduce greenhouse gases. And at $90 a barrel, oil has become an expensive commodity.

Alternative Fuels and Technologies for Fleets

Alternative fuels and technologies for more efficient operations are imminent for most fleets. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has established a number of programs in partnership with industry aimed at research into and development of alternative fuels and a variety of technologies aimed at cleaner, more efficient freight operations.

Much of the impetus for improvement comes from the West Coast, particularly California, where air quality is a key public health concern.

In June, 2007, California's South Coast Air Quality Management District, who has responsibility for Southern California air pollution control, approved $2.9 million for 20 LNG heavy duty vehicles from Westport Innovations Inc., a Vancouver, B.C.-based developer of alternative fuel technology, for operation by Total Transportation Services at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Also active on the West Coast is WestStart-CALSTART, a not-for-profit consortium of some 145 companies focused on reducing transportation-related air pollution. Their goal is to foster development of clean transportation technologies. Unlike some industry-sponsored organizations, the group remains neutral on both fuel and technology.

UPS conducted a highly publicized hybrid vehicle test with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for several months. UPS used a fleet of hydraulic hybrid delivery vehicles developed in a partnership with the EPA as well as the U.S. Army, International Truck and Engine Corp., and Eaton Corp. In laboratory testing, the technology achieved a 60- to 70-percent improvement in fuel economy compared to conventional UPS package vans, according to the EPA. It also produced a 40-percent-plus reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA estimates that when the hybrid components are manufactured in high volume, the added costs could be recovered in less than three years through lower fuel and brake maintenance costs. The trucks may also be eligible to qualify for a tax credit of up to 40 percent of the incremental cost of the vehicle, the EPA says.

Clean Air and Clean Truck Legislation Is Here

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have proposed to the Federal Maritime Commission implementation of their Clean Truck Program. Analysis by the National Industrial Transportation League led to contesting the proposal they see requiring drayage companies to meet an accelerated schedule for implementing state and federal emissions standards.

California legislature and the Governor approved a law (Oct, 2007) aimed at raising smog abatement fees for all vehicles to fund research on alternative fuels.

Research Programs for Transportation Technologies

The DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory sponsors research in its Advanced Heavy Hybrid Propulsion Systems Project to increase the fuel efficiency of heavy trucks and buses by as much as 100 percent, and improve their emissions to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's 2007-2010 emission standards.

The 21st Century Truck Partnership, an industry-government collaboration among heavy-duty engine manufacturers, heavy-duty truck and bus manufacturers, heavy hybrid powertrain manufacturers, and four federal government agencies, develops both public and proprietary research projects, supports research, development, and demonstration projects in five areas:

  • engine systems
  • heavy-duty hybrids
  • idle reduction
  • safety
  • parasitic losses (factors like aerodynamic drag resistance and rolling resistance)

Fuels for Transportation Alternatives

Propane is the most commonly used alternative transportation fuel.

Natural gas accounts for approximately 1/4 of the energy used in the United States, only about .01 percent is currently used for transportation fuel. It must be stored onboard a vehicle in either a compressed or liquefied state.

Several other vehicle fuels are in the early stages of development, according to the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center. They include:

  • Biobutanol, an alcohol that can be produced through processing of domestically grown crops, like corn and sugar beets. Like ethanol, it can be used in gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.
  • Biogas, sometimes called swamp gas, landfill gas, or digester gas -- is produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as animal manure, sewage, and municipal solid waste. After processing, it becomes a renewable substitute for natural gas and can be used to fuel natural gas vehicles.

    DOE says a 2007 report estimated that 12,000 vehicles are being fueled with upgraded biogas worldwide, with 70,000 biogas-fueled vehicles predicted by 2010.

  • Biomass-to-liquids fuels, which are produced through the conversion of diverse biomass feedstocks into a range of liquid fuels. One major benefit of these fuels is their compatibility with existing vehicle technologies and fuel distribution systems.
  • Fischer-Tropsch diesel, which is made by converting gaseous hydrocarbons into liquid fuel.

    SOURCE: See This comprehensive technology review for additional solutions: DC Velocity (11/2007)

    Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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