Fleet News

Guest opinion: Hybrids, the next step in clean-fuel battle

OIL is running out. It may well be years away, but we are consuming a decreasing resource at an ever-increasing rate.

A direct consequence of this is that while oil will be available for years to come, it is going to get a lot more expensive. Minimising the impact of this increase will be a key part of every business’s transport plans over the next decade and beyond.

So what are a fleet manager’s options? Without doubt, further development of petrol and diesel engines will increase their efficiency.

Forecasts for the World Council for Sustainable Development indicate the potential for a 20% improvement in fuel consumption over current diesel models by 2030. However, this technology will come at a price with engines costing 20% more to produce.

In contrast, hybrid technology is available now in saloon, hatchback and SUV variants and offers significant efficiencies over conventional engines.

Hybrid technology makes the most of our diminishing supplies of oil and is an important step on the way to the replacement of the internal combustion engine with the hydrogen fuel cell.

Growing acceptance of this technology in the world’s two biggest markets, Japan and the USA, means that economies of scale will soon allow these engines to be produced at a similar cost to existing power plants.

The cover of Fleet News on November 17 featured Government plans for bio-fuel to make up 5% of our fuel needs by 2010. The reduced duty on bio-fuel could make it an attractive possibility for fleets. How-ever, several factors could limit the potential for bio-fuels – the competition between the amount of land required for bio-fuel production and land required for food and other commercial crops, a lack of information about how much it actually costs without favourable Government incentives and lack of a suitable standards to maintain a consistent high quality supply for today’s hi-tech engines.

The ultimate answer to our fuel needs is the fuel cell.

It uses hydrogen and oxygen in an electro-chemical reaction to produce electricity that drives the vehicle with water as the only bi-product. Honda has 20 fuel cell cars in daily use in the US and Japan and other manufacturers too are making great strides with this technology. However, the fuel cell is a long way from being commercially available. The refuelling network is virtually non- existent and each car has to be hand-built at present.

Fuel cell cars require the assistance of batteries after start-up while the cell reaches full efficiency. They are also commonly used to run onboard electrical systems while the fuel cell drives the car.

These batteries are charged during normal operation of the car using the energy generated during braking and deceleration.

This energy management is a key factor in hybrids as well, with small fuel-efficient petrol engines linked to an electric motor driven by the same batteries and energy conservation technology as the fuel cell car.

As more manufacturers seek to develop fuel cell cars, they will have to develop this energy management technology. Hybrid will therefore become mainstream. All this was on show at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show where a record number of hybrid cars from a record number of car manufacturers were on display.

Hybrids offer the next step on the road to a cleaner hydrogen-powered future.

They have low emissions and low fuel bills making them ideal for today’s cost conscious fleets. Shouldn’t you be looking to see where hybrid can fit into your fleet?

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