Nick Eyre of the Energy Savings Trust, Malcolm Fergusson of the Institute for European Environmental Policy and Richard Mills of the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection produced a 62-page report entitled 'Fuelling Road Transport – Implications for Energy Policy', which makes a number of recommendations. Fleet NewsNet has taken some of the key findings relevant to the future powering of fleets and presents them below.
In many cases, fleets, rather than the private motorist, are often the early adopters of new fuel technology, as has been seen in recent years with LPG or electric cars. With companies able to bunker fuel on premises if it is not widely available around the country in fuel stations, car and energy companies have realised that to gain a foothold, the corporate market is of paramount importance.
Recently General Motors, at the forefront of the race to produce hydrogen-powered vehicles, promised that it would be approaching fleets first when the cars and the fuel become a viable alternative to the fossil fuel vehicles we have now. The question is, when will that be and how much will it cost?
That makes the information below important reading for fleet companies. Which fuel is worth looking at for long term fleet planning. and which is a lame duck? Our easy-to-read guide provides fuel for thought.
Hydrogen Refuelling concerns make future unclear
In the absence of a large carbon reduction benefit, there is no strong environmental case for accelerating the introduction of a large scale hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fleet ahead of the availability of surplus renewable energy sources.
There are substantial uncertainties around the infrastructure issues associated with the introduction of a hydrogen fleet. In particular they depend on whether the hydrogen is produced at local sources, or is distributed through a network. It seems unlikely that these issues can be confidently resolved in the short term. In the meantime, and before a wide-ranging network of hydrogen fuel supply is available, there is the opportunity to proceed incrementally through bi-fuelling and through dedicated depot-based fleets meeting niche markets.
To the extent that infrastructure issues can be resolved, a case can be argued for accelerating development of a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle fleets, even ahead of the widespread availability of renewably sourced energy, on grounds of security of supply reflecting long term geo-political uncertainties.
Larry Burns, vice-president for research, development and planning at GM, believes fuel cell cars could be in production by 2005, and that there could be 'convincing and affordable fuel cell vehicles by the end of the decade'. GM already has 90bhp fuel cell Zafiras with a range of 250 miles.
Biodiesel and bioethanol are designed for use in the existing transport system, although engine modifications are needed to use biofuels in pure form. Even taking into account the energy inputs to fuel production, there are carbon benefits from using biodiesel and bioethanol to substitute for (or extend) oil-derived fuels.
However, the carbon benefits of biodiesel and bioethanol are much less than from using a similar area of land for woody biomass, particularly if these are converted to hydrogen or methanol for use in fuel cells.
As an indication of the potential contribution, 25% of UK agricultural land planted with indigenous wood crops converted to methanol, ethanol or hydrogen could in the long term satisfy most, or even all, UK road transport fuel demand. This outcome would, however, be dependent on relative costs and a large number of technical factors.
Greenergy claims its research confirms both the economic efficiency and environmental effectiveness of blends of biodiesel when used as standalone products. 'Further market stimulation by the Chancellor would pave the way for significant market penetration of biodiesel blends,' it says. Hybrids
Case is not strong for development
Hybrid vehicles, which are already available (although from a limited number of manufacturers), are likely to develop technologically. Hybrids have the potential to double vehicle fuel efficiency and halve CO2 emissions, even using conventional fuels. In addition, hybrid vehicles can offer substantial benefits in the short term for air quality and noise, particularly in urban hot spots.
The development of hybrid vehicles can also be seen as a contribution to the progressive 'electrification' of vehicles.
Improvements in electronic control systems and electric drivetrains, for example, are all vital elements of developments that are essential to the commercialisation of fuel cell vehicles.
Indeed, the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are in fact hybrids themselves.
Honda's head of corporate sales, James Daulton, says: 'We believe our petrol/electric hybrid system is one of the most effective ways of reducing vehicle fuel consumption – and with it carbon dioxide emissions.
'Honda has great plans to incorporate it into an increasing number of vehicles. One day it will become a standard Honda feature, much like the VTEC engine is today.'
Natural gas offers an alternative to diesel and is attractive for heavy-duty fleet vehicles. In these applications it offers benefits in terms of conventional pollutants, noise and carbon emissions – but does not, of course, represent a pathway out of fossil fuel dependence.
TransportENERGY head of marketing Martyn Pring says: 'With the increasing number of vehicles on the road, it is vital that hauliers and logistics companies understand the benefits of using environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional fuels. Using green alternatives such as natural gas helps to protect our environment and can deliver cost benefits by saving money in the long term.'
Electric vehicles have virtually no emissions at the point of use and are clean from a fuel cycle perspective but seem unlikely to secure major market penetration due to the limited range and performance of their batteries. Although tailpipe emissions are zero, the energy source for the electricity has to be taken into account in any assessment. Electric vehicles will remain confined to niche markets.
Martyn Pring, head of marketing and communications for TransportEnergy: 'Battery vehicles are not going to make a significant impact on the world we live in.' Liquefied petroleum gas
No carbon dioxide benefits over conventional diesel
LPG use represents a good option in terms of broader energy efficiency policy while petrol use is significant.
But LPG will remain unlikely to offer carbon benefits when compared to diesel. In addition, good-quality LPG conversions offer some air-quality benefits, although these are being eroded over time by the improved performance of other vehicles. Currently LPG is exported and therefore increasing its use in the UK vehicle fleet is a sensible option for reducing carbon emissions. Its feasible penetration of the total vehicle fleet is only 10%.
Energy Minister Brian Wilson says: 'LPG is an option which has already removed thousands of motorists from uncertainty about pump prices. The Government has backed the LPG alternative and I hope that many more motorists will consider it. LPG is half the price of petrol. It emits fewer greenhouse gases and is therefore one of the most environmentally-friendly options currently available. It is a win-win fuel.'