Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

State of the Alternative-Fuel Industry

May 2014, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

Whether you have a fleet of 500 vehicles or five, reports, research, and the touted results from utilizing alternative-fueled vehicles has probably made its way onto a fleet manager’s radar in some form or another. Here is an overview of the current state of alternative fuels and their status in the fleet industry.

Producing Biodiesel

Biodiesel’s physical properties are similar to those of petroleum diesel, but is a cleaner-burning alternative. Using biodiesel in place of petroleum diesel, especially in older vehicles, can reduce emissions, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC).

Biodiesel blends are being used by a wide variety of industries, including fleets and general consumers, because the fuel offers an easy, low-cost option to instantly  “green” their fleets, according to Jennifer Weaver, OEM outreach & education specialist for the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). The NBB is a national trade association representing America’s first advanced biofuel.

 “Because biodiesel blends can be used in any diesel engine without modification, fleets don’t have to make heavy investments in new vehicles, equipment, or fueling infrastructure, like they do with some other alternative-fuel options,” Weaver said. “This provides users with an overall low total cost of ownership with a biodiesel-powered fleet.”

Biodiesel is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an advanced biofuel, meaning it is a renewable fuel with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that are at least 50-percent less than diesel fuel emissions, according to the NBB.

Biodiesel has traditionally enjoyed its strongest use in the medium- and heavy-duty truck market, as well as the agriculture equipment market. According to the NBB, some of the key industries and market segments using biodiesel include utility companies; government and municipal fleets; package, food, and beverage delivery fleets; construction; agriculture and farming operations; underground mining; over-the-road trucking; and fleets operating in environmentally sensitive areas.

“The industry is also seeing strong growth in the use of biodiesel blends in light-duty passenger vehicles,” Weaver noted. “With 44 new clean diesel car, truck, and SUV models available now in the U.S., and more than 58 diesel models expected in North America by 2017, consumers now have more options than ever before for using clean, renewable biodiesel blends in their diesel vehicles.”

Biodiesel blends can be used in any diesel vehicle or engine, according to manufacturer recommendations. Biodiesel blends up to B-20 (20-percent biodiesel blended with 80-percent petroleum diesel) serve as a drop-in replacement for diesel fuel and, according to the NBB, operate seamlessly compared to diesel — offering the same kind of fuel economy, power, and performance of traditional diesel fuel.

“All major OEMs selling diesel equipment in the U.S. support the use of at least B-5 biodiesel blends, provided they are made with biodiesel meeting the industry’s strict quality standards specified by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) D6751,” Weaver said. “In addition, more than 78 percent of U.S. manufacturers support B-20 or higher biodiesel blends in at least some of their equipment, and nearly 90 percent of the medium- and heavy-duty truck markets support B-20.”

Currently, biodiesel and biodiesel blends are available across the U.S. from approximately 2,000 public locations, including retailers, distributors, and truck stops. A mobile app from the NBB, “Biodiesel Now,” is a station locator application.

In existence for nearly 20 years, the biodiesel industry first started to really take off in 2005 when biodiesel production reached a high of 250 million gallons, according to Weaver. In 2013, the biodiesel industry reached a new production record of  1.8 billion gallons.

“The biodiesel industry vision is to replace 5 percent (or 1.88 billion gallons) of petroleum diesel use with biodiesel by 2015, and replace 10 percent (4 billion gallons) of petroleum diesel use with biodiesel by 2022,” Weaver added.

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