Hybrids get the green light

Feb. 26, 2008
It's long been said it's not easy being green and when it comes to truck fleets, the reason why is there are a plethora of choices

ATLANTA. It's long been said it's not easy being green and when it comes to truck fleets, the reason why is there are a plethora of choices that can only be sorted out after negotiating a steep learning curve.

But according to expert speakers here yesterday at the second annual "Hybrid Truck & Alternative Fuels Summit," sponsored by International Truck & Engine Co. in conjunction with the Annual National Truck Equipment Assn. (NEA) Convention and Work Truck Show, there's no need to stay green about going green.

Dept. of Energy Under Secretary Clarence H. Albright Jr. emphasized the importance of having an array of alternatives to reduce the carbon footprint of businesses. "We must develop a portfolio of fuel options that are safe, reliable, clean and diverse. Diversity [of choices] is key," he said. Albright contended that "we [as a nation] should not apologize for our use of energy, but we do need to explore ways to be more efficient. We want your input," he added. "Together, we can make a huge difference."

Interestingly, Dan Kratz, truck operations manager for GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services, stated that market drivers for hybrids include not only concern about high fuel costs, national reliance on a globally unstable petroleum supply and idling restrictions, but also corporate mandates to reduce a fleet's carbon output. "I get calls every day [from customers] stating that the CFO or CEO ‘wants the carbon footprint cut 20% and how do we do that?'"

Kratz said that for wider adoption of hybrids to occur, a gauntlet of challenges must be run from developing proper specs (electrical and chassis) to dealer training on warranty issues and service to driving training on batteries and ePTO (electric-only operation of PTO) to limited OEM availability.

And running a cost comparison for potential hybrid users is complex, he pointed out. "There's the acquisition cost vs. the fuel savings; the cost of replacing batteries, now at $5,000; and the question of remarketing-- do you take hybrid system off and sell the chassis?" Kratz also said there is concern revolving around accidents as to whether first responders will feel there is a risk to approaching hybrid vehicles although he added. "We don't feel there is, but education is needed."

Speaking for the National BioDiesel Board, Dr. Richard Nelson of Kansas State University, said biodiesel demand has been driven up most sharply by tax incentives and reached the 450-million gallon production mark last year. He drew a sharp distinction between biodiesel (B100) as the fuel derived from vegetable oils or animal fats that meets the ASTM D 6751-07 B fuel spec and the biodiesel blends that are designated by the volume percentage of B100 blended with petrodiesel—such as the B5 truckers often use.

According to Nelson, expansion of biodiesel will hinge on fuel quality and access to feedstocks, be they based on vegetable oils or animal fats. "Biodiesel will not make it if we cannot get fuel quality on a consistent basis," he stated. "And there must be adequate feedstocks for production." He said demand for ethanol has driven up corn acreage and as a result soybean acreage used for biodiesel has dropped. On the other hand, he noted "access to oils, fats and greases" will play a role in meeting biodiesel demand.

Nelson said that besides availability, feedstocks matter because each varies in how it influences specific fuel properties. He pointed out though that the ASTM spec for biodiesel is "feedstock-neutral" He explained that biodiesel fuel quality impacts engine warranties as well as cold flow properties and cetane number.

Greg Loew, market manager—hybrid vehicles for Altec Industries, a supply of aerial "bucket truck" equipment detailed the nitty-gritty aspects of getting a hybrid truck into the hands of a user. He said there are assembly, truck operator safety, service and sales challenges. "It's night and day to assemble a hybrid-equipped truck," he stated, so planning must ensure other utility trucks are not delayed on the line. And in designing the truck, he said it's "critical to minimize the differences [in controls etc.] for the aerial device operator" and also to provide a truck that will "operate smoothly for safe operation in the work zone."

Loew said it's crucial that the body maker and the OEM deliver service in the field quickly to hybrid vehicles. As to sales, he said the simple truth is "some trucks are not yet suited for hybrids," such as digger-derrick trucks-- which would get no more than a minute of battery life.

According to Loew, one of the biggest opportunities for hybrid truck development exists literally "between the frame rails." That, he said, is where hybrid system components "should be placed to greatly simplify integration."

More information on the Summit.

View more Fleet Owner news relating to alternative fuels, fuel conservation, fuel economy and diesel fuel prices.

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