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Sustainable Initiatives Needed to Accelerate Clean Transportation

Published:

August 26, 2021

Category:

Sustainability

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For many, the allure of alternative fuels is heightened when paired with favorable conditions. However, depending on region and fuel type, the associated incentives and technology readiness can vary greatly. So, the question is posed, how can we prioritize developments within the alternative fuel space – and, ensure this commitment is carried forward in a socially responsible manner? Sustainable initiatives. Keep reading below to learn just what this means.

Manufacturers Expedite Change

For many fleets, trusting in diesel is easy. The technology is proven, the network is established, and the nuances are familiar. However, when it comes to alternative fuel, fleets enter the unknown. Tasked with identifying which technology is most suitable for their application, selecting the best vehicle manufacturer, and determining proactive responses for the “other” issues that may arise as a byproduct of change, the questions can quickly compound – though they don’t have to.

Currently, renewable natural gas (RNG), biodiesel, renewable diesel, and propane are four alternative fuels bearing proven vehicle technology across vehicle classes and applications. Leading fleets such as Amazon, UPS, Unilever, and many others use RNG – driving emission reductions without sacrificing operational margin. This is thanks to steadfast commitments from manufacturers such as Cummins Westport and Freightliner, to name a few.

However, many fleets are looking to adopt solutions bearing zero tailpipe emissions: electric and hydrogen. While various vehicle manufactures are involved on the electric side (BYD, Lightning Motors, Kenworth, Lion Electric) as well as on the hydrogen side (New Flyer, Hyzon, Hino, Hyundai), few of these models have yet to move beyond their prototype/demonstration phase. We’re seeing electric transit, school, delivery, and yard truck models bear the greatest availability whereas relative to hydrogen, transit buses are the primary commercially available model in the medium and heavy-duty space.

To combat this disparity, manufacturers have a vital role in supporting sustainable initiatives. By commercializing their vehicle technology at scale and in a cost-effective manner, they will establish market confidence – subsequently helping drive adoption of clean transportation.

Victim to the “chicken or the egg” conundrum, many organizations are waiting to purchase vehicle technology until the associated infrastructure is built out. Conversely, many municipalities and fleets are waiting to construct fueling and charging stations until enough vehicles are deployed to drive volume to their sites. Regardless of which side of the debate you may fall on, there is no doubt vehicles and fueling infrastructure are two key pieces missing from the decarbonization puzzle – pieces the market needs to reach a compromise on.

Governments Bridge Economic Differential

On a related note, transitioning to alternative fuel can come with a hefty price tag. Aside from the price for batteries and hydrogen itself needing to drop further, the cost of new vehicle models and fueling station builds can quickly add up. To prevent this from serving as a deterrent, select state and federal governments have adopted clean fuel incentive programs.

Currently, there are four active programs across North America: California’s LCFS, Oregon’s CFP, the Federal RFS, and British Colombia’s BC-LCFS. While each program varies slightly, for fleets operating within these regions, they can get paid to use alternative fuels that were deemed eligible by the program: often including RNG, electric, and hydrogen.

However, while these sustainable initiatives have helped curb transportation-related emissions, the impact is still localized in many regions. To further advance adoption of clean transportation, more governments need to implement similar standards while ensuring in conjunction, funding opportunities are present.

Symbolizing a move in the right direction, Canada’s Federal Clean Fuel Standard is set to solidify in 2022 and Washington State’s LCFS is expected to be enacted in 2023. Further, Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Mexico, and Nebraska are five additional regions evaluating clean fuel programs. While many states still need to follow suit, recognizing the value and potential of these programs, more are beginning to lean into decarbonization tactics.

Map of Regions Across North America with Current or Proposed Clean Fuel Programs

In addition to clean fuel programs, regions have also established funding programs to help offset incremental costs that often accompany alternative fuel vehicle purchases or new fueling and charging infrastructure builds.

Considering many fleets are comfortable with their current fueling portfolio and vehicle technology, sustainable initiatives in the form of clean fuel programs and grant funding are essential in helping decarbonize the transportation sector.

Pathway to Decarbonization

In building out sustainable initiatives that support a clean transportation network, it’s essential to recognize everyone has a role. Fleets need developers to bring sustainable fueling alternatives to market, shippers need clean carriers to transport their products, and municipalities need organizations to convert their fleets to meet targeted emission reductions.

However, in meeting these goals, there is an important consideration to keep in mind: the pathway to decarbonization cannot be successfully achieved with one fuel type. Many regions have been quick to adopt a zero-emission or electrify everything mindset which while may sound great, can actually hinder sustainable advancements and disqualify proven solutions.

To properly evaluate the sustainability impacts of a fuel, one must consider the fuel’s entire lifecycle, or, well-to-wheel emissions. This process accounts for the emissions that result from producing and using fuel (or electricity) – not just those from use alone as many believe. Often, the term ‘zero-emissions’ refers to any electric or hydrogen vehicle, but typically points to only the tailpipe emissions, instead of the lifecycle emissions.

Next Steps

Whether hesitant to adopt alternative fuels because you’re concerned about technology readiness, in need of financial incentives, or unsure of where to start, reach out. We’d be happy to help you learn how your fleet can integrate alternatives today – or, plan out for the future as more sustainable initiatives are deployed to support your fleet.

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