Alternative Fuels for Utility Fleets
As petroleum gas prices continue to climb, alternative fuel options have become a popular topic of discussion. This isn’t just because of cost, but also because of rising environmental concerns. The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes six major types of green fuel options: biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, and propane.
Which Alternative Fuel is Best?
Choosing an alternative fuel option for your utility fleet depends on the needs and circumstances of your business. Making the switch from petroleum gas is a big decision. While turning your business green will save you cash while saving the planet, there are many things to consider.
Here is a basic run-down of your alternative fuel options to help you decide if going green is right for your business.
Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, like corn or canola, animal fat, or recycled restaurant grease. The greener, earth-friendly version of regular diesel, biodiesel can be used in most commercial and utility vehicles without causing engine damage. It reduces emissions by as much as 75 percent over petroleum diesel and can save on fuel costs. However, you’ll want to check your engine warranty for compatibility with the biodiesel blend you choose to use.
There are currently over 250 biodiesel stations available in the United States. Most of these stations are located in California and Illinois. Check Biodiesel.org for locations near you.
There are three different kinds of electric vehicles. Hybrids feature an internal combustion engine powered by petroleum gas as well as a motor powered by electricity. Plug-in hybrids have a combustion engine and an electric motor, but differ from a regular hybrid because they can be driven on electricity alone. All-electric motors are powered solely on electricity.
Each variety of electric vehicle uses varying degrees of electricity, with some relying more heavily on traditional petroleum fuel. Emissions on all electric vehicles are lower than their traditional counterparts. All-electric vehicles have zero emissions and hybrid options have an option to charge using regenerative braking.
There are currently over 10,000 electric stations located all over the continental United States.
Flexible Fuel Vehicles, also known as FFVs, use either regular gas or a mixture of gas and ethanol. This offers flexibility to utilize whatever fuel options are readily available in your area. There are nearly 3,000 different ethanol stations across the U.S.
Ethanol is most commonly made from corn, although it can be made from other agricultural plants. The exact make-up varies according to geography and growing seasons. There are two basic ethanol blends, the lower E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline) and the higher E85 (51% to 83% ethanol).
Hydrogen power is a renewable fuel resource, but is still largely in the development phase. Because hydrogen is still difficult to extract from sources like water and methane, hydrogen power is still relatively expensive.
Fuel cell vehicle prototypes are just beginning to reach the market, although they seem to have a promising future. Hydrogen is extracted through a process of combining steam and natural gas. It can also be extracted using wind, solar, or water electrolysis. However, most of the hydrogen extracted in the U.S. used for processes like petroleum refinement and food processing.
There are currently only about a dozen hydrogen stations located in the United States. However, as technology advances, it this alternative fuel option is expected to become more readily available.
Natural gas is composed of methane and other hydrocarbons. It is already a readily available fuel source, comprising about 25 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. It is a clean-burning, low emissions fuel source that is less flammable than petroleum. Natural gas also slows regular engine wear, which lengthens the life of your vehicle.
Available in compressed or liquefied form, natural gas is most often used in liquefied form in medium to heavy-duty utility vehicles.
Vehicles that run on propane come with a heftier price tag, but save big on long-term fuel costs. Propane is much cheaper than petroleum fuel and available from domestic sources.
Most gasoline and diesel vehicles can be converted to run on cleaner and cheaper propane.
There are over 1,500 propane stations across the United States, but with the growing interest in greener fuel options, this number is expected to increase.
A Note About Government Incentives
There are plenty of state and national incentives available for all alternative fuel types. This is important for commercial utility fleets to consider when weighing fuel options. With government incentives and cheaper fuel expenses, fleet owners and managers will see a faster return on their investment.
To learn more about government incentives and green fuel alternatives, visit http://www.afdc.energy.gov/laws/fed_summary.
Deciding to Switch to Alternative Fuel
There are pros and cons to going green for any business that relies on commercial utility vehicles. It is important to weigh your business’s needs, budget, and projected growth as well as long-term and short-term investment costs. To help you make an informed decision, visit the Alternative Fuels Data Center for detailed information concerning laws, incentives, vehicle options, and fueling station locations.