The future of a healthy planet depends on
innovation and adoption of cleaner, greener
fuels. The future is looking bright for a
mix of alternative-fuel sources. - PHOTO: GETTYIMAGES.COM/METAMORWORKS

The future of a healthy planet depends on
innovation and adoption of cleaner, greener
fuels. The future is looking bright for a
mix of alternative-fuel sources.

PHOTO: GETTYIMAGES.COM/METAMORWORKS

The ability to peer into the future with complete clarity is something only true in movies. But, with a look to the past and connection to fleets utilizing these fuels, a much clearer view of the future starts to appear.  

“NTEA’s 2020 Fleet Purchasing Outlook, released earlier this year, indicated idle management was heavily implemented. Interest in alternative-fuel vehicles also increased after remaining relatively flat for the past several years. Telematics, route optimization, and driver training are becoming more prominent in the fleet community as a growing reliance on data drives decisions,” said Christopher Lyon, director of Fleet Relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry.

Future of Biodiesel 

Biodiesel and renewable diesel are expected to be on the rise in 2021, according to data from the National Biodiesel Board (NBB).

“Today, there are more than 3-billion gallons of operating capacity online, with announced expansions potentially adding another 3-billion-plus gallons of capacity by 2023. This means our existing feedstock base will play a critical role. Currently, soybean oil leads the way at nearly half the market with approximately 8 billion pounds of oil in 2019, which is approximately one-third of the soybean oil crushed in the U.S.,” said Scott Fenwick, technical director for the NBB.

The NBB is excited for today and tomorrow’s farmers and oilseed processors. 

“Our modeling suggests that a 6-billion-gallon industry in 2030 will demand more than 18-billion pounds of soybean oil each year,” Fenwick added. “The continued growing demand for animal protein alone, driven by worldwide population growth, will lead to increased fats and oils in the market available for industrial uses. The U.S. market demand for protein has and will continue to grow at a faster rate than vegetable oil market demand, resulting in a projected annual excess of more than 5.5 billion pounds of soybean oil in 2030.”

World Energy, entering its 27th year introducing fleets to advanced biofuels, sees public policy support as more solid and predictable than at almost any other time. 

“The public cares more now about the need to move to cleaner fuels, and companies that care about their customers are seeing the need to adjust to that new reality. COVID-19 has forced a reckoning in the traditional integrated and independent oil refining sectors. Traditional fuel suppliers are now hustling to get involved in the innovative renewable fuels market. As fuel demand impacts associated with COVID-19 continue to dissipate, demand for cleaner low-carbon fuels continues to grow,” said Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy.  

The driving factors are long-term nature and go beyond ground-based vehicles. “There is no going back. Our sustainable aviation fuel will continue to garner more attention as airlines and private flight operators seek to build healthier operations in a post COVID marketplace,” he said. 

World Energy is continuing to invest in a proven supply platform for effective carbon-reduction solutions. 

“In Southern California, we are spending more than $1 billion to convert our entire facility into the world’s first low-carbon production and distribution hub for renewable diesel, renewable jet, biodiesel, and green gasoline. We are working on projects to bring renewable natural gas and renewable hydrogen to market,” Gebolys added.   

Future of Electric 

While fully electric work trucks are still in development, hybrid-electric powertrains are growing in this segment, and the alternative-power source has potential for the commercial segment.

“As electrified vehicle (EV) adoption continues to lead toward fuel cell vehicles, telematics provides insight into drive and duty cycles. The analysis shows these systems and technologies are being developed in tandem, and we’re in a stronger position than in the past for greater integration,” said Lyon of NTEA.

All industry projections show increased fleet electrification in the years ahead due to the many trends listed earlier, mandates within California, and the growing social push to decarbonize transportation. 

“The inflection point is happening, and there’s no turning back, especially now that an electric-powered fleet is ultimately cheaper to purchase and run over time than a fossil fuel one. But, challenges remain since a fleet electrification program is a significant undertaking with multiple parties and components that the average fleet operator does not have the time, expertise, or resources to handle and manage. This could be a major hurdle for many municipalities and commercial businesses if they don’t surround themselves with the right expertise and offerings,” said Vic Shao, CEO & Founder of AMPLY Power. 

The consensus is that 2021 will be extremely exciting for electric vehicles. 

“First, several new, fleet-focused EVs will arrive in the market in 2021. These include EV pickup trucks that will further enable fleet electrification. We see funding opportunities growing in 2021 as well, providing fleet managers another reason to consider electrifying their fleet,” said Nate Valaik, e-Mobility product marketing manager for Gilbarco Veeder-Root. 

Shao also expects growth in software that allows commercial fleet operators more visibility in routing and cost savings in their EVs, sharing that managing an electric fleet can be quite different from operating one based on liquid fuels. 

“Fleet managers must track routing, ensure vehicles are charged, as well as track the time-of-use to ensure they are not overpaying for electricity during peak times when electricity demand is high. While companies offer platforms that allow this type of visibility today, by 2030, we expect fleet operations to go even deeper into real-time monitoring and automation. The software will model depots and track trends such as real-time charge and schedule tracking, and fuel cost per time period, maintenance schedules, charge order, and more. These evolving, automated tools will save operators time, and allow them to reinvest in areas such as driver training or merely growing the business,” Shao said.

David Peterson, director, Fleet Solutions for ChargePoint, expects that EVs will be part of mixed fuel fleets long term, especially if vehicle replacement rates do not change. 

“I think it will be important to help mixed fuel fleets make the transition as smoothly as possible. EV providers, such as ChargePoint, have integrations with some of the largest telematics and fleet management software companies to help facilitate this,” Peterson said.

Beyond 2021, Valaik believes fleet managers can expect to see even more fleet EVs come to market. 

“Battery technology will continue to improve, resulting in lower vehicle prices and even better fleet economics. From a regulatory standpoint, fleet managers can expect local, state, and national government policies to increasingly steer fleets toward electric vehicles. What is most exciting, however, is that we expect to see TCO for fleet EVs continue to improve as battery technology evolves and costs decrease,” Valaik said 

Given the initiatives to introduce, simplify, and make electric transportation technology more affordable across the country, Shao suspects more and more fleets will commit to switch to greener fuel. No matter which way the political pendulum swings in the U.S., Shao noted that businesses across the country are waking up to the economic and social benefits of electrification. 

“This will only continue as more experience these benefits and share their positive stories with their peers,” Shao noted. 

Peterson believes that 2021 will be a big year for all vehicle types. 

“We will see the start of production for many medium- and heavy-duty vehicles from the largest OEMs, as well as delivery vans and pickup trucks. There has never been a time where so many different EV fleets were available in nearly every class. This means more customers will be purchasing vehicles and trying to determine which electric fueling system will be right for them — education and tools to help them navigate to the right solution will be important,” Petersen said.

Future of Ethanol

Low-level blends of E-10 or less do not require special fueling equipment and can be utilized in any conventional, gasoline-powered vehicle. Starting in 2010, E-10 (an ethanol-gasoline blend containing 10% ethanol) was sold in all 50 states to boost octane, meet air quality requirements, or satisfy the Renewable Fuel Standard. The DOE also notes that currently, the vast majority of ethanol used as vehicle fuel in the U.S. is produced domestically; the U.S. is the world’s No.1 ethanol producer.

“New stations offer ethanol blends each day, which provide consumers and fleet operators more opportunities to utilize these fuels. We expect the number of new stations in 2021 to be higher than 2020, and growth to continue,” said Robert White, VP of Industry Relations for the Renewable Fuels Association. “As interest and policy drive fuels with lower carbon and emissions, ethanol will play a critical role in the future of liquid fuels, and beyond. Not to mention, it is also a renewable fuel that can be made each year again.” 

Future of Natural Gas 

Looking ahead, 2021 looks to be a significant growth year for natural gas vehicle (NGV) fleets, especially for fleets interested in renewable natural gas (RNG) motor fuel.  

“As market trends and policymakers continue to push and even require low-carbon transport options, fleets running on CNG can achieve nearero emissions with new ultra-low NOx engines that are already in production and ready for large-scale deployment. Furthermore, by using RNG, fleets can achieve net-zero and even net-negative CO2e end results by collecting and converting the methane from organic decay that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere into natural gas to fuel the almost 200,000 natural gas vehicles already on our roads today and a net-negative zero CO2e end result,” said Paul Sandsted, director of Technology & Sustainability for NGVAmerica.

As pro-climate change policies continue to evolve, NGVAmerica expects to see further growth in NGV fleets fueled by RNG or biomethane.  

“Compared to other infant zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) technologies, such as electric and hydrogen, RNG-fueled trucks are commercially available, affordable, and scalable for any fleet application now. We expect to see growing interest in addressing clean air and climate change concerns immediately with the best and most cost-effective solution available now — and that’s natural gas,” Sandsted added.

Sahar Kamali, director of Business Development for Clean Energy Renewables, also noted the growth of RNG and as a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions for many fleets today. 

“We will continue to see demand for RNG grow, as new supply ramps up production, especially from low and negative carbon sources such as agricultural waste. As RNG becomes the standard for natural gas vehicles, we believe it will further drive the adoption of compressed natural gas (CNG), which has demonstrated its reliability and performance capabilities on par with diesel,” Kamali said.

Future of Propane Autogas

As more fleets demand a clean energy source, the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) expects to see more growth in 2021. 

“Because of the increased demand for lower emissions across the country, high fuel use fleets in the medium-duty Class 3-7 space are paralyzed by the high cost of EVs, along with the lack of commercially available vehicles, and have turned to propane autogas to meet their environmental sustainability goals. Based on increased first-time adoption this year and repeat propane autogas vehicle purchases, we project the highest growth in 2021 will be in the delivery truck industries for food, beverage, and parcel/packages with a close second by Class 5-7 service trucks, especially with rollback tow trucks,” said Steve Whaley, director of autogas business development for PERC.

PERC also expects renewable propane  to be an important factor in the future of propane autogas. 

“Renewable propane has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane and can be used in any existing propane autogas engine. Because it is produced from renewable, raw materials, renewable propane has an even lower carbon intensity than conventional propane and is far cleaner than other energy sources,” said Steve Whaley, director of autogas business development for PERC.

Renewable propane is already available in states that have implemented stricter low carbon standards. 

“Several U-Haul locations in Southern California and propane marketers along the west coast are now supplying renewable propane to commercial and school bus fleets,” Whaley added. “A medium-duty truck operating on our best blends of renewable propane produce less greenhouse gases than the same EV truck charging from the electric grids in all 50 states.”

PERC expects to see new innovations, not only in 2021, but well into the future. 

“The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently funded six propane-related projects totaling more than $9 million. The projects include improved efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty engines, technology integrations, and adoptions in new markets,” Whaley said. 

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