Green Truck Summit focuses on transportation sector’s environmental impact

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Green Truck Summit kicked off at the Indiana Convention Center March 1, highlighting the myriad of ways fleets can reduce fuel costs and their carbon footprint.

Touching upon several topics – such as alternative fuels, electric-powered vehicles, the future outlook of compressed natural gas (CNG) and telematics – the summit, which took place in Indianapolis, Ind., opened with a keynote address from US deputy assistant secretary for transportation in the Department of Energy Reuben Sarkar, who said it was critical that the government invest into energy research to curb global warming.

“We are really at the forefront of one of the defining issues of our time,” he said, adding that the US needs to be a global leader in fighting climate change.

Sarkar said the transportation sector makes up 70% of all petroleum use, or one third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which was why his department asked for a 51% increase in funding in this year’s federal budget for vehicle technologies research.

Sarkar said the US’s top scientist say the country needs to curb its GHG emissions by 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.

He added that 2015 was the hottest year ever on record, and that the climate change alarm was no longer an ‘abstract threat’, but a very real one.

Trends and alternative fuel technology

The first Green Truck Summit panel discussion addressed work truck trends and alternative fuel technology, with representatives from the biodiesel, propane, natural gas and electricity sectors.

Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, highlighted several benefits of electric-powered vehicles, including increased efficiency, fuel economy and decreased fuel costs, emissions and noise.

Addressing the concern that increased electricity use for powering vehicles would mean greater use of power plants, and in turn greater emissions from those plants, Cullen said research has shown that this would still produce less emissions than vehicles that run on gasoline.

Cullen also echoed a sentiment felt by several panel participants; that the current lower gas prices has taken the public’s attention away from alternative fuel options, something all agreed was a mistake.

Biodiesel, propane and natural gas were also discussed as viable alternative fuel options, with each producing less GHG emissions than standard diesel of gasoline.
Although many agreed that with the low price of oil, the economic factor has lost its spot as the top driving factor for exploring alternative fuels, other reasons, like the environment, have come to the forefront.

Low-cost solutions that show a return

What are companies doing to be more efficient and reduce GHG emissions?

This was the topic of discussion for a panel that included George Survant, senior fleet director for Time Warner Cable, who said with 20,300 vehicles in his company, there will always be barriers and hurdles to overcome when employing the use of alternative fuels, but with large fleets like Time Warner’s, positive changes will be evident after some time.

Bill Van Amburg, senior vice-president of Calstart, a company dedicated to the growth of a clean transportation technologies industry, said that in the end, it’s all about results.

“There are things that you can do that are just plain smart,” he said, pointing to the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program, which helps fleets better utilize all the new technologies they can to reduce fuel costs and GHG emissions and bases accomplishments on a five-level, points-based system.

CNG’s future with low oil prices

Mike Britt, director of maintenance and engineering international operations, ground fleet for UPS, said that over 3,000 of this company’s 6,673 small-package fleet vehicles run on compressed natural gas.

“We are generally agnostic to alternative fuel technology,” he said, adding that depending on where in the world they operate, some form of alternative fuel is used in their vehicles, including propane, hydrogen, liquid natural gas and electric.

In the future, UPS plans on having over 8,000 alternative technology vehicles on the roads in the US and abroad.

One of the challenges of getting CNG to customers was putting the right infrastructure in place, because as Steve Shearon, CNG commercialization manager, constellation, pointed out, the US is the world leader in natural gas production, and is in fact producing more than there is demand.

With CNG prices comparable to gasoline and diesel, Shearon said it was about reducing emissions and lessening a fleet’s environmental impact, as it reduces GHG emissions by up to 30%, lessens noise and offers simple aftertreatment.

Panellists did indicate that with CNG, the more a company uses the product, the less it costs.

Telematics is not a four-letter word

One of the biggest issues with a company’s use of telematics is privacy. Some drivers feel that installing all kinds of technical devices on their truck does one thing and one thing only – keeps an eye on them at all times.

From a business perspective, however, utilizing telematics can have positive results on their bottom line.

Brian Johnson, fleet maintenance manager for Alabama Power Company, said there are two types of goals for telematics – people management and fleet management.

He also said there are two parameters a company must look at when using telematics – driver behaviour and vehicle health.

“From a fleet maintenance perspective,” Johnson said of vehicle health, “this is the data we’re looking for.”

The use of technology, or telematics, can help reduce idle time, identify vehicle issues as soon as they arrive and can help correct various types of bad driving habits through training sessions with staff.

Mark Goody, manager of electric vehicle programs for Canadian company FleetCarma, said when it comes to deciding which types of electric vehicle models to deploy, it comes down to selecting the best fit EV for each particular duty cycle.

“The idea is to test before you buy,” he said, as this will give fleet managers confidence in the product they are purchasing.

For a more detailed look into each of the panel discussions and keynote address at the Green Truck Summit, pick up your next copy of Truck West or Truck News.

Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis, Ind.
Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis, Ind.

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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