By Mike Kastner
NTEA Senior Director of Government Relations
At this year’s Hybrid Truck & Alternative Fuels Summit, held during the 44th Annual NTEA Convention in February, Under Secretary of Energy Clarence Albright, Jr. discussed the pressures faced by the work truck industry as a result of increased global energy demands.
“We face an explosion in global demand for energy,” said Albright. “Over the next 25 years, we estimate that global energy consumption will increase by an additional 50%, with 70% of that coming from the world’s emerging economies.”
Albright further expressed that he was “extremely encouraged by what I’ve seen so far here at The Work Truck Show. Your innovative use of new technologies and your hard work to move away from a dependence on foreign fossil fuels are not going unnoticed in Washington.”
The NTEA continues to work with companies in the work truck industry and the Department of Energy to ensure that new technologies are developed as fossil fuels become increasingly more expensive.
While alternative fuels and energy technologies in the motor vehicle industry are constantly evolving, following is a brief description of the most advanced from a commercial perspective.
Natural gas is domestically produced and readily available. Also, it’s a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline or diesel. Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) have been used for decades to fuel light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles.
To provide adequate driving range, CNG must be stored onboard a vehicle in tanks at high pressure. A CNG-powered vehicle gets about the same fuel economy as a conventional gasoline vehicle on a gasoline gallon equivalent.
To store more energy onboard a vehicle in a smaller volume, natural gas can be liquefied to produce LNG. A gasoline gallon equivalent equals about 1.5 gallons of LNG. Because it must be kept at such cold temperatures, LNG is stored in double-wall, vacuum-insulated pressure vessels. LNG fuel systems are typically only used with heavy-duty vehicles.
Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas, has a high octane rating and is produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. Propane-powered vehicles have a good driving range. A gallon of propane has about 25% less energy than a gallon of gasoline. It is the third most used vehicle fuel, behind gasoline and diesel. Because propane is transformed into a gaseous state before it is burned in an internal combustion engine, the engine runs more efficiently in low-speed, light-throttle conditions.
Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from various plant materials, most commonly domestically grown corn. Nearly half of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol in a low-level blend to reduce emissions.
E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) is considered an alternative fuel under the 1992 Energy Policy Act. It is used to fuel flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). E85 has about 27% less energy per gallon than gasoline and is typically priced lower than gasoline so that cost per mile is comparable.
Bio-diesel is produced from renewable sources such as new and used vegetable oils and animal fats and is cleaner burning than regular diesel fuel.
When bio-diesel is blended with diesel, it produces a fuel that is compatible with diesel engines, displaces imported petroleum and reduces harmful emissions. Blends like B2 (2% bio-diesel and 98% diesel) and B5 (5% bio-diesel and 95% diesel) are increasingly common. Higher level blends such as B20 are also becoming more widely available.
Electricity can be used as a transportation fuel to power battery electric vehicles (EVs). EVs store electricity in an energy storage device, such as a battery. The electricity powers the vehicle’s wheels via an electric motor. EVs have limited energy storage capacity — thus a limited range. The batteries must be recharged, typically overnight, by plugging into an electrical source.
Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) combine an internal combustion engine with the battery and electric motor of an electric vehicle. HEVs offer low emissions, with the power, range and convenient fueling of conventional vehicles. HEVs never need to be plugged into an electric source
HEVs have the potential to be two to three times more fuel-efficient than conventional vehicles.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) combine the benefits of pure electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles. PHEVs plug into an electric source and can be powered by the stored electricity alone.
Like hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs are powered by two energy sources — an energy conversion unit (such as an internal combustion engine or fuel cell) and an energy storage device (batteries).
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in nature. It can be produced from fossil fuels or renewable energy — even solar or wind power. The use of hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles is virtually emission-free. While not yet commercially available, the potential for hydrogen-fueled vehicles is significant.