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BEV, FCEV, or RNG? Key Takeaways from the 2021 ACT Expo

Published:

September 17, 2021

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Article authored by Lynn Lyon, Director of Business Development – Sustainable Transportation

As we look to the future of transportation, many ask what fuels will displace diesel and gasoline. Seeing our daily lives depend on transportation, whether for work, school, food, or travel, there’s no doubt a lot is at stake. But, what’s driving the transition across fuel types and vehicle classes?

The Alternative Fuels Market: An Overview

On the passenger side, there is a surge of interest in battery electric vehicles (BEV) such as Tesla in addition to emerging demand for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) such as the Toyota Mirai. To support the uptake in interest, nearly every auto manufacturer has committed to deliver electric powertrain options to the market. But, what about the commercial side?

While this change is happening at a corporate level throughout organizations and municipalities, the strain can be felt at a personal level as fleet owners, managers, and drivers try to make sense of the growing list of alternative fuels and technologies. More specifically, as shareholders, board of directors, regulators, policymakers, and employees evaluate means to decarbonize their operations and minimize their organization’s carbon footprint, transportation is often a key focus. This holds true whether you are a shipper, receiver, or carrier of goods or services.

Collectively, companies and organizations are finding themselves navigating global, national, and local sustainability agendas – specifically, as they relate to transportation and emissions. Not only are they tasked with assessing their current operations, but revising their visions for cleaner transportation by means of actionable deliverables.

The Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is a perfect venue to learn and share what’s new, working well, lessons learned, and predictions for the future as they relate to clean transportation. In fact, it’s THE place to see new vehicle models, assess technologies, and learn what collaborators are working together to advance the industry. Through sessions, exhibits, and discussions with collaborators, the topics of fuel selection, technology readiness, infrastructure availability, incentives, and state and federal regulations are intertwined, offering insight into the decision-making process. 

Keep reading to learn from my key takeaways on the three most popular fueling choices fleets discussed at the ACT Expo: BEVs, FCEVs, and Renewable Natural Gas (RNG).

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

There is a growing demand for BEVs across vehicle classes. While light-duty and medium-duty vehicles are the furthest along bearing more models to choose from, we’ve seen great developments in the heavy-duty space – and recognition that BEVs will be ideal for return-to-base applications. Leaders such as FedEx are dedicated to working through any issues that may arise in trialing these models, and they are committed to sharing insights on their findings with other fleets.

Further, models from heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers have been trialed over the past two years – receiving positive feedback from both fleet owners and operators. As a result, organizations are placing large orders, leaving manufacturers to reconfigure their operations to ensure the timely development and delivery of these new skills, processes, and parts. Currently, Peterbilt has an EV truck backlog of over 400 orders while Volvo announced their largest customer order for 16 vehicles at the ACT Expo.

However, attitude is one of the most significant factors driving BEV adoption. It can take time to implement change at the corporate level, so it’s essential organizations have enough interested parties with the right mindset. During the ACT Expo, it was made clear that if all the trucks in California were to require charging, the grid would have to double in size to accommodate the uptake in demand. Beyond the electricity requirements, there are also concerns about timing for infrastructure installation (estimated at 12-24 months) as well the software complexity used for various vehicles and charging systems. But, with the right partner, this risk can be mitigated. Thanks to AMPLY Power’s smart charging technology, we can help fleets like yours manage and optimize charging, without the headaches.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV)

Heavy-duty hydrogen FCEVs sparked conversations in 2019 – most of which were focused on Nikola’s vehicle models. However, now, just two years later, nearly every OEM has acknowledged hydrogen’s ability to provide for hard-to-abate sectors and is collaborating on plans for development. Toyota has been a leader in this space, deploying FCEVs at the Port of Long Beach. 

On a related note, the first Hyzon truck manufactured in the United States is currently being tested in California. Hyzon had two of their  Class 8 trucks at the ACT Expo’s ‘Ride and Drive’, enabling attendees to get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. I had the opportunity to ride in one of their trucks during which the driver shared he liked the FCEV model far better than its diesel counterpart due to it being clean, quiet, and futuristic – making it all the more fun to drive. 

However, many still have questions relative to hydrogen supply, including whether it should be transported and stored as a liquid or compressed and stored onsite in its gaseous form. For those who are proponents of liquid, Chart Industries’ unveiling of their new product line for heavy-duty trucks featuring an onboard liquid hydrogen fuel system was an exciting announcement. 

The feedstock of hydrogen was another hot topic seeing over 90% of the United States’ hydrogen supply is sourced from natural gas. Through panel discussions, relative to the wave of new investments in green hydrogen, it was noted that hydrogen either needs to be produced from renewables or that blue hydrogen that’s produced from natural gas has carbon capture integrated. While early developments have started to take root, most providers acknowledged we are still at least five to six years away from commercial adoption.

Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)

Finally, the largest clean fuel fleet transitions to date were done using compressed natural gas (CNG). There are currently over 175,000 natural gas vehicles operating in the United States and an established network of more than 1,600 natural gas fueling stations. While the technology and infrastructure were first built to supply conventional natural gas, demand for RNG quickly rose – serving as a drop-in solution to CNG. California is leading this energy transition in that 92% of natural gas used for transport features carbon-negative scores. 

Switching to renewable natural gas is easier today because it allows fleet owners to continue with internal combustion engines while leveraging fueling facilities coast to coast, fed from the country’s expansive pipeline network. During the hydrogen fuel cell executive roundtable, the question was asked, “Should we still invest in renewable natural gas?”  The answer from all participants was unanimous: yes. Not only did the panelists recognize RNG’s role as a feedstock for green hydrogen, but as an immediate solution for their decarbonization efforts. Without this option, fleet executives shared how they would have to instead purchase more diesel trucks until the technology and infrastructure for BEVs and FCEVs matured.

Next Steps

“Inaction is not an option. Delayed action is not an option.” – Peter Voorhoeve, President of Volvo Trucks North America

 If we agree with this statement from the ACT Expo, it should be evident we need collaboration for alternative fuels to make impactful changes today that build out the framework for tomorrow. To learn how you can help advance the market and lean into a polyfuel future, be sure to follow our team on Twitter (@UsGain) and LinkedIn (U.S. Gain).

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