Saving money while saving the environment is at the heart of the environmentally friendly “green fleet” movement here in the U.S. but it’s not easy to put that belief into practice. The wide variety of alternative power options for fleets – hybrid-electric, natural gas, propane, ethanol, and biodiesel – coupled with higher cost structures and lower range vs. diesel and gasoline can make “going green” an expensive proposition.
The key to making a green fleet work, according to Robert Hall, fleet environmental manager for United Parcel Service, is to work where possible with government agencies to help defray the cost of acquiring alternative-fueled vehicles.
“The best way to evaluate new technologies and fuels is to test them in real-life conditions on the road,” he told FleetOwner. “That’s why we work with government agencies like EPA and with manufacturers. Our goal is to prove the commercial viability of these alternatives, so that the industry can adopt them broadly. Then unit costs can go down for everyone and we can all have a more positive impact on the environment. It’s worth noting that these trials have applications across the world, not just here in the U.S.”
While almost all the alternative vehicles UPS is testing are expensive – largely in terms of vehicle sticker prices and investments in refueling infrastructure – they all have the potential to save the mega express carrier in the long run, as diesel and gasoline prices continue to rise.
“As you can imagine, fuel is a significant cost for UPS. In 2005 alone, we spent 4.8% of our [overall company] revenue on fuel. We believe this is the lowest percentage in the industry, but it is still a significant cost that must be managed,” Hall said. “We have a responsibility to our customers and shareowners to control and potentially reduce that cost. We are considering alternative fuels as a way to both cut our costs in the long-term but also to be a good environmental steward.”
Currently, UPS operates 1,400 alternative-fueled vehicles, using compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), propane, fuel cells and hybrid electric power. To date, UPS has invested more than $15 million in its alternative fuel fleet, which topped 100 million miles of operation last year, said Hall.
Partnering with government agencies along with the corporations involved in designing and building alternative-fueled equipment helps advance such technology, Hall stressed. For example, UPS is currently involved in a partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and Daimler AG to obtain practical knowledge about operating hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in commercial delivery operations.
UPS deployed a fuel cell-powered parcel van in 2004. It uses hydrogen to produce electricity to run the vehicle while emitting only water vapor out the tail pipe and to date has accumulated 34,000 miles.“Our long-term goal is to minimize dependence on fossil fuels by improving operational efficiencies and advancing new technologies,” Hall explained. “Moving nearly 16 million packages around the world each day requires operating a large ground and air fleet, so reducing fuel consumption and emissions is a constant priority and challenge,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to reduce fuel use, emissions, and our impact on the environment so we can operate in a sustainable manner.”