Energy efficiency is a cornerstone of operating a business in a more environmentally friendly manner. My series on “green vending” has explored energy efficiency as it applies to machine operations and office/warehouse operations. In this final installment, I will explore energy efficiency as it relates to vehicle power and vehicle fuel, both of which are aspects of fleet vehicle operations.
Before continuing, let me note there are other aspects of vehicle operations that are important, both to environmental concerns and business efficiencies. Vehicle maintenance is an area that should be high on every operator’s list of priorities. Efficient routing is another aspect of managing the fleet efficiently. Other articles have addressed these aspects of vehicle operations. This article will address vehicle power and fuel issues.
A promising option for vehicle power involves hybrid technology. A “hybrid vehicle” is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle. The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors.
A hybrid system uses an auxiliary battery pack and an integrated electric motor/generator situated between the vehicle’s engine and transmission. The generator is used to capture energy normally lost to heat during braking. Once this energy is captured and stored in one of the batteries, it helps activate the electric motor connected to the truck’s engine during periods of acceleration and high load, thereby reducing overall fuel consumption. While there have been medium-duty trucks on the market, there is research to develop a system for heavy-duty trucks.
Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles
Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) will be unlike current models that do not rely solely on electric power. Instead, PHEVs will be designed with advanced battery packs that enable electric power exclusively. Most PHEVs will be equipped with a supplemental gas engine, should the vehicle run out of power before reaching its destination. PHEV vehicles are expected sometime in late 2010 or early 2011.
A hybrid electric drive system vehicle combines a primary power source, an energy storage system, and an electric motor to achieve a combination of emissions, fuel economy, and benefits unattainable with any of these technologies alone.
Many state governments already offer incentives for transit agencies that incorporate cleaner, more efficient technologies into a bus fleet.
Hybrid electric drive systems are a good option because they use less petroleum-based fuel and capture energy created during breaking and idling. This collected energy is used to propel the vehicles in normal drive cycles. The systems’ batteries supply additional power for acceleration and hill climbing.
Hybrid electric vehicles costs are not well documented at present.
Future: Alternative Fuels
Looking at fuel options, experts predict fleet operators will have flexibility in choosing cost-effective energy efficient solutions for their delivery vehicles. The Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute (AFVi) is working to develop products and processes necessary to deploy alternative energy sources.
Apart from the various ways promoted for fueling vehicles, the one offering that is “fuel-agnostic” is hybrid power-train technology.
Given the federal government’s fickle history with tax incentives, and the cyclical nature of fuel prices, timing will be a critical factor in making the financial case for any of the alternatives. Yet ultimately, it may not be the bottom line that drives the purchase decision, but rather, consumer and political pressure. With that in mind, savvy managers must “get up to speed” on the various alternative fuel options and where each might fit in their fleet.
Alternative Fuels emerge