Trucking companies, and the shippers that hire trucking companies, are making bold commitments to cut their carbon footprint – such as becoming net zero by 2030. Yet achieving net zero or better requires more than operational improvements. Alternative technologies are needed to move beyond even the cleanest diesel platform. Renewable natural gas (RNG) has emerged as the leading pathway for low carbon, clean air trucking. There are three compelling reasons why RNG is helping sustainable companies decarbonize their transportation today.
RNG is derived from organic material found in green waste, food waste, landfills, sewage treatment, and livestock manure. These organic wastes naturally decompose into methane. Methane that leaked into the atmosphere is a potent short-lived climate pollutant and greenhouse gas. Rather than releasing into the atmosphere, methane can be captured and converted into a drop-in replacement fuel for conventional natural gas.
When used for vehicle fueling, RNG reduces carbon by capturing methane that would escape into the atmosphere; and by replacing high-carbon diesel fuel. The chart below shows the carbon intensity of traditional fossil fuels and low-carbon alternative fuels. RNG produced from dairy manure has carbon emissions that are up to 300 percent cleaner than diesel fuel, and has the potential to be negative carbon intensive. Replacing just 25 percent of a fleet’s diesel trucks with negative carbon intensive RNG from dairy manure can reduce a fleet’s carbon emissions by 100 percent.
Many areas of the U.S. have harmful air, and diesel trucks play an oversized role in local air pollution. The greater Southern California area, California’s Central Valley, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, and other metro areas share this air pollution problem. Air pollution contributes to respiratory, cardio, and other illnesses. Studies have linked local air pollution to susceptibility to COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Diesel trucks emit high amounts of local air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and diesel particulate matter. Diesel particulate matter is classified as a toxic air contaminant and is composed of carcinogenic compounds.
Trucks powered by RNG have 90 percent lower NOx emissions than a new diesel truck and over 98 percent lower NOx emissions than many of the diesel trucks in use today. RNG-powered trucks have zero emissions when it comes to carcinogenic diesel particulate matter.
RNG fuel costs less than diesel fuel. Fuel savings are particularly amplified today with skyrocketing diesel prices. RNG prices are also less volatile than petroleum fuel.
RNG trucks have great economics compared to other emerging clean technologies. The cost of these emerging technologies is 200 percent to 300 percent more expensive than RNG trucks. These emerging technologies have far more expensive charging or fueling infrastructure costs than RNG fueling. An RNG truck at one-half to one-third the cost of other technologies has better carbon reduction and equivalent air quality benefits.
Climate pollution and air pollution are problems that exist today, not far in the future. While it is noteworthy for companies to make aspirational goals to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the future, RNG trucks offer the ability to achieve net zero immediately. RNG truck technology has been proven and perfected over the past 14 years. RNG engines are mass produced by Cummins, and RNG trucks are mass produced by Freightliner, Peterbilt, Kenworth, Volvo, and Mack. RNG fueling infrastructure is available throughout North America and is rapidly expanding. Clean Energy alone has over 560 fueling locations at customer sites and at retail locations.
Companies like Amazon, UPS, Waste Management, SAIA, Estes, and TTSI are deploying thousands of RNG trucks today. What do these sustainability-leading companies know? RNG is the lowest carbon fuel available and offers an affordable alternative to diesel today that is proven and scalable.
Greg Roche is the Vice President of Sustainability at Clean Energy, the country’s largest provider of the cleanest fuel for the transportation market.
It’s been more than 100 years since Henry Ford’s Model T revolutionized the way the world moves people and goods. Ford didn’t invent the car, but over the course of about 30 years, he transformed the way vehicles are manufactured – increasing volumes, driving down costs, and converting them from expensive novelties to affordable conveyances for workers and families. Just as importantly, over the last 100 years, other entrepreneurs and innovators developed an infrastructure ecosystem to ensure these vehicles could be fueled, serviced, and customized.
More than a century later, we find ourselves on a new transportation frontier that is once again transforming the way society moves people and goods. This time we are transforming how vehicles are propelled, from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric, and modernizing the fueling infrastructure. Gone will be the days of imported crude, cumbersome fluid tanker trucks, and lines at the gas station, in favor of producing fuel via localized grids and microgrids, and distributing that fuel via depot chargers, home chargers, and public charging stations.
As we approach 30 years since the first modern retail offering of battery-powered electric vehicles, it’s clear that EVs – of all shapes, sizes, models, and payloads – are here to stay. I am certain of this because nearly every day I witness the reaction of drivers when they operate a Lightning eMotors commercial EV for the first time – smooth, quiet, powerful, and equipped with safety features never before available on commercial vehicles. I see their response when we talk about efficiency of nearly 60 MPGe on the exact same vehicle that got 13 mpg as a gasoline vehicle.
These products and this industry are my passion. I have dedicated myself to creating a company that not only builds amazing products, but also builds products that make both environmental and business sense, a company that helps move the planet in the right direction. As CEO of Lightning eMotors (NYSE:ZEV), a leading manufacturer of commercial vehicle electrification, telematics, and energy and charging solutions, I have seen that it is possible to build exciting products that also have a compelling business case and are environmentally transformational.
Not only has growing public awareness of the environmental and health benefits of electric vehicles led to government legislation and funding to promote the transition from internal combustion engines to electric, but evidence for the EV business case continues to grow as well. Companies of all sizes and purposes are dedicating resources to support the transformation of their fleets to electric vehicles.
In addition to the growing list of companies that has pledged a commitment to reducing their fleet impact on the environment, within just the past year the Environmental Protection Agency allocated $5 billion to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models through the Clean School Bus Program. In addition, the Federal Transit Administration announced almost $5 billion for public transit agencies, states, and Tribal governments to support public transportation across the country through its Low or No Vehicle Emissions Program; and the United States passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which provide billions in new funding for EVs and EV infrastructure. History has rarely seen industry and government so closely aligned on a path forward. This is yet another sign that electric vehicles are the future.
While it’s true, for the time being, that up-front costs are higher than their petroleum-powered counterparts, as industry continues to invest in EV technologies and as government continues to provide incentives to purchase, more electric vehicles are being manufactured. Scale is growing and costs are coming down. What’s more, data is proving that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles will last longer and require far lower maintenance and fuel costs.
Critics point to the bumps in the road for EV makers as proof that the endeavor itself cannot succeed. Of course, establishing a successful EV industry comes with challenges. But we are at the point where EVs have proven themselves to make sense logistically, financially, and environmentally, and transitioning from internal combustion engines to electric is both financially prudent and impactful for the environment.
A little-talked-about factor helping to lower the cost of entry is the increasing production of specialty commercial vehicles. In fact, according to the 2022 IEA Global Electric Vehicle Outlook, the business case for light commercial vehicles (LCV) is stronger than for cars, with sales of LCVs increasing 70 percent in 2021.
Those of us who spent more time at home during the pandemic, marveling at how easy and ubiquitous home delivery has become, are probably not surprised by that. And it’s only increasing. In a post-COVID world, e-commerce sales are forecast to rise 37 percent from 2020 to 2024, according to Statista Digital Market Outlook 2020.
We estimate there to be 2,500 electric vehicles in use in commercial fleets across North America – many as transit buses and cargo delivery vans and trucks, but also as passenger vans, shuttle buses, school buses, ambulances, and motor coaches. And the number is growing every day, as business and industry recognize the value of zero-emission transportation options for customer satisfaction, growing investor demands for sustainability and, importantly, their bottom lines.
Adoption no longer depends on emotion. Choosing EVs for commercial use is a demonstrably smart business decision. It’s no longer a matter of if the world’s primary source of transportation will be EVs but when…and when is now.
At Lightning eMotors, we see firsthand through our advanced telematics capabilities the efficiency of all our zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses through every phase of their lifecycles. Our vehicles have demonstrated between four-and-six-times better efficiency than their gasoline-powered siblings over the last 2.3 million real-world miles. In total, vehicles deployed by Lightning have removed more than 1,850 tons of CO2 from our environment.
As pathways toward adoption continue to grow, some companies will succeed, some will consolidate, and a few will fold. Regardless, the commercial EV market is now firmly established and will continue to make a positive impact on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and its customers’ bottom lines.
Henry Ford is quoted as having said: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”
The commercial EV industry is a remedy. It’s a remedy for business costs, efficient and effective resource use, and reducing carbon emissions into the environment, and it has been quietly making inroads into the mainstream for the past three decades.
Before long, the days of internal combustion engines dominating our roadways will be as much a symbol of the past as Ford’s Model T.
Tim Reeser is CEO and Founder of Loveland, Colorado-based Lightning eMotors
Dealers are ‘all in’ on EVs and incredibly excited about the new electrified products that are being announced almost daily. Dealers are hungry for the sales and service opportunities that are going to come with having numerous new EV models to sell.
While today’s EVs are exceptional, particularly compared to those of just a decade ago, the reality is that almost all appeal primarily either to stalwart supporters of reducing greenhouse gas emissions or luxury vehicle l buyers who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and performance.
One of the great mistakes we make in assessing our progress on converting America’s fleet to electric is assuming that today’s EV buyers will look like the EV buyers of tomorrow. This simply isn’t true.
It is undisputed that Tesla has been extremely successful at selling its products, and the company deserves significant credit for what it has been able to accomplish. But Tesla’s success does not prove that you can sell EVs in great quantities in America: What Tesla has proven is that you can sell Teslas very successfully in America to a certain, and small, subset of affluent new-car buyers.
Mass adoption of EVs in America won’t be achieved using a Tesla-type of direct to consumer model. Why? Because the typical Tesla, Rivian, or Lucid buyer isn’t who’s going to be buying the next generation of EVs.
Look around at so many of EVs being announced and marketed heavily lately – the electric Chevy Silverado and Blazer, the VW ID.4, and the Hyundai IONIQ 6, for example. Far from status or luxury vehicles, each actually has a starting MSRP below the average transaction price of a new vehicle – including ICE cars and trucks – sold today.
As the EV market continues to leave the luxury niche status and enters the mainstream, its customers will come to resemble the average car buyer more and more. And it’s these EV customers of the future who we need to cater to if we are to have meaningful and broad EV adoption. Because to sell effectively to mass-market buyers, you need to capitalize on what has worked for mass-market buyers for generations.
Things like consumer education about the product, help with comparing models, working with a customer’s budget constraints, financing assistance, helping with trade-ins, allowing test drives, and – yes – even good-old-fashioned tire kicking. And this is all in addition to the new challenges specific to EVs, such as the complexities of charging – the fact, for instance, that electric rates vary based on the time of day and the level of charge – and other variables that don’t exist in the ICE market.
Dealers are absolutely essential in this world of new EVs. Because once you get past luxury vehicles and into the mass market, you will not achieve broad acceptance of any product, regardless of how it’s powered, by rejecting the attributes of the sales and service process that mass-market vehicle buyers aren’t just accustomed to, but that they depend on to confidently choose the right vehicle at the right price that best meets all their needs.
This is a critical juncture in our march towards a cleaner future. And it’s a good time for policymakers and stakeholders at all levels to think critically about what it’s going to take to sell EVs in greater volumes to customers who haven’t experienced EVs yet.
Because the reality is that it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take a network of tens of thousands of retail and service points located in just about every corner of the country, not just a website. It’s going to take hundreds of thousands of knowledgeable sales staff, not just a 1-800 number. And it’s going to take hundreds of thousands of highly trained technicians capable of providing professional service on the spot, not just mobile repair trucks. It’s going to take dealers. Fortunately, we’re already here, and we are raring to go.
Mike Stanton is Chairman and CEO of the National Automobile Dealers Association
As of 2020, the greatest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions was the transportation sector, at 27 percent. Of that pollution total, 22.4 percent was generated by passenger cars and light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks. The remaining 4.59 percent was attributable to aircraft, rail, ships, and other emitters.
To avert global warming, the U.S. needs to transition from the ubiquitous fossil-fuel-burning internal combustion engine to electric and/or other earth-friendly propulsion sources. The vision of zero-emission vehicles is absolute nirvana, a clear pathway to clean skies, improved health and a bright future for our planet. But there is an inconvenient reality: The U.S. generates 60.8 percent of its electricity by burning fossil fuels. Much like our air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions, and computers, EVs can only be as clean as the electricity powering them.
During 2019, California experienced 25,281 electric power outages, a 23 percent increase over 2018. Those outages victimized 28.4 million customers, a 50 percent increase over the 19 million Californians affected in 2018. Recently, electric grid operators’ groups such as the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) and the Midwest Independent System Operators (MISO) forecasted an increased frequency of blackouts and brownouts during the summer of 2022.
By 2030, 8.7 million EV passenger vehicles and 10.4 million last-mile delivery trucks are expected to occupy U.S. roadways. Assuming annual passenger car usage rates of 13,474, and 12,435 miles for last-mile delivery trucks, at an average of 3.46 miles per kW, that will consume as much electricity as 2.7 million single-family U.S. homes.
Legislation like New York’s Electric Building Act guarantees increased electricity consumption. Also, ever increasing fossil-fuel prices (required to make demand electricity) will increase production costs that will ultimately trickle down to consumers. Boston Consulting Group predicts that increased EV demand will require utilities to invest $1,700 to $5,800 per electric vehicle in grid upgrades through 2030. That $178.7 billion investment will assuredly increase consumer prices.
For EVs to become ubiquitous, numerous hurdles preventing the masses from adopting EVs as their sole source of transportation must be overcome.
Charging at home is both convenient and cost effective for the 67 percent of Americans who live in single family homes. But will multi-car families be willing to interrupt their evenings to plug in a second EV or will they incur the cost of adding another Level-2 charger, or the exorbitant cost of acquiring and installing a Level-3 charger? Moreover, in an emergency, a person’s ability to respond will be limited by the number of EV chargers available along the route, their charging speed, and functionality.
Without millions of fast, reliable, and safe EV chargers throughout the U.S., many consumers will resist EV adoption. For example, in 2021 the California Energy Commission’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Assessment warned that the state will need 1.2 million EV chargers by 2030.
The U.S. has over 1.1 million fuel nozzles and a fill-up takes about three minutes. When contrasted against a 150kW DC fast-charger, three minutes provides less than 30 miles of range. Subsequently, to satisfy the motoring public’s needs and to provide peace of mind, the U.S. will require many millions of ultra-fast-output public EV chargers.
In an effort to provide EV drivers with blackout and brownout immunity, offset power plant CO2 emissions, and to provide ultra-fast charging speeds, I created the Wind & Solar Tower (WST). This charger, the only one in the world powered by both wind and sun, is capable of simultaneously charging six EVs at Level-4 DC 380kW 1000-volt speeds that provide about 328 miles of range in just fifteen minutes. With up to a megawatt of battery storage capacity, each tower provides 797,900 miles of pollution-free driving per year and offsets 340.91 tons of atmospheric CO2 emissions.
My wind-and-sun-powered generating plant makes electricity on site for less than half the cost of utility-supplied power. Factoring in certain government programs, kWh costs can be reduced to nearly zero.
Reliability and ease of service are paramount with the WST. My team’s vast engineering and automotive capabilities means self-diagnostic capabilities and a 40-year service life. The WST features the lowest acquisition cost per EV charging outlet and generates – at virtually zero cost – 11,520 20kW charges with 100-percent-renewable energy that supplants electric grid load, which in turn reduce CO2 emissions and averts global warming.
As the global automotive industry transitions to an electric future, Mercedes-Benz aims to become the most desired electric brand in the world. From 2025 onwards, all newly launched vehicle architectures will be electric-first, demonstrating Mercedes’ commitment to electrification and efforts to provide a variety of options to consumers. To refine this strategy, Mercedes recently announced ambitions to expand its luxury purchasing experience in addition to focusing on luxury automobiles.
We’re in a steady race to decarbonization. With that, we realize that there cannot be luxury in the future without sustainability. Now that we’ve made a full commitment to electric, surpassing milestones along the way, we are shifting capital allocation and engineering resources to the luxury segment because the demand is there. We are focused on bringing real value to our customers, dealer partners, and shareholders worldwide.
Mercedes-Benz will rebalance its product portfolio, allocating more than 75 percent of its investments to the most profitable market segments. Mercedes is transitioning from one electric vehicle line to a full lineup of vehicles focusing on three key product categories:high-end luxury, core luxury, and entry-level luxury. This increased focus on luxury products is reflective of our rising customer demand in these segments.
Our goal to go totally electric by 2030 – where market conditions permit – and become CO2-neutral by 2039 are key components in strengthening the link between luxury and sustainability. With a higher concentration on the top end of the market, Mercedes will generate a strong financial performance even under increasingly adverse market conditions. By the end of this decade, Mercedes aims to have reduced CO2 emissions per passenger car by half from 2020 levels. Electrifying the car fleet, charging with green energy, increasing battery technology, and a large use of recyclable materials and renewable energy in manufacturing are all important components in the overall electrification strategy.
Success in the future requires changes today. In order for this new portfolio approach to work, we recognize that the number-one component driving demand in luxurious mobility is digital and sustainable luxury. This is being defined by values and benefits that go beyond physical experiences. Customers seek and demand valuable resources such as time. As a result, everything is being viewed through the lens of innovation, addressing this urgent need of customer convenience. We’re making incredible progress on all fronts. And we’re doing it as a team.
We are committed to providing a superior customer experience that extends beyond traditional channels and senses. Mercedes-Benz has launched a brand-new effort as a result of this: "Customer First" – an all-new initiative designed to address overall brand perception issues, improve customer satisfaction, and drive loyalty by. Customer First will channel customer issues directly to an HQ Central Team for quick answers to questions and swift resolution of potential issues. This initiative is part of our commitment to deliver the best white-glove service possible.
We’re also hard at work establishing new marketing and sales channels, both online and offline, to ensure a seamless consumer experience. The world is changing because of technology and we have to utilize its full potential to provide meaningful added value to our consumers. At every touchpoint, beginning with digital communication, the greatest user software offers high usability and an immersive customer experience. Additionally, Mercedes will begin combining equipment packages in an effort to simplify configuration and meet customer needs. The packages will be tailored to the tastes of customers and geographical demand, allowing for faster delivery.
For 130 years, Mercedes has placed emphasis on creating unforgettable brand experiences across all customer touch points inside and outside of the car. It’s important to us that customers are able to view a new vehicle in person, experience it with all of their senses, and drive it. We're excited to continue this good work, focusing on giving customers the unique Mercedes-Benz brand experience they demand and deserve.
Dimitris Psillakis is Head of Marketing and Sales at Mercedes-Benz Cars North America and CEO of MBUSA
Ever since the smog-choked days of the 1960s, the Golden State has led the way toward cleaner cars. The array of zippy zero-emission electric cars that drivers can choose from today owes a great deal to the standards set by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). During this Summer, a season which experts say will threaten millions of Americans with drought, extreme heat. and wildfires, CARB will decide on the next step for green cars.
While Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars sold in the state from 2035 on emit no pollution from their tailpipes, the actual rules will be written by CARB in its Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard. The The The ZEV standard currently covers model years through 2025, so the next one will cover 2026 and beyond. Because 16 other states have chosen to follow California’s car standards, what happens in Sacramento will not stay in Sacramento.
CARB staff have proposed a package that would meet the Governor’s goal of 100% sales of ZEVs in 2035, along with further ratcheting down on tailpipe pollution from the internal combustion engines that will be sold before then. The proposed rule would add some important consumer protections to assure that buyers of ZEVs get the performance and durability that they are paying for.
But the Board Members should strengthen the measure in two major ways: timing and equity. Given the urgency of the twin crises of air pollution and climate chaos that are damaging our communities today, California should require that ZEV sales reach 75% – rather than the 68% in the proposal – by 2030, on the way to the 100% by 2035 finish line. Setting that pace will reduce emissions sooner, bringing needed relief to our lungs and health, while also putting more clean vehicles into the supply that buyers can choose from. The current proposal, if not strengthened, would saddle Californians with hundreds of thousands of more polluting cars on the road that cost them more money at the pump and will continue to spew climate altering and lung damaging pollution.
Furthermore, we need to make sure that the clean transportation revolution benefits everyone, especially those who have benefitted the least from new technologies while suffering the worst impacts of air pollution and global warming. Coalition for Clean Air works with our partners in the Charge Ahead California campaign to democratize the electric car, and CARB should assure that residents of disadvantaged and low-income communities have access to clean mobility, whether through car ownership or other affordable options like car-sharing.
California has led the nation – and often the world – in improving motor vehicles through smart regulation and enforcement. It was CARB that required catalytic converters to reduce smog in the 1970s, set the first standards for vehicle greenhouse gas emissions in the 2000s, and spurred the development of what is now a robust electrical vehicle (EV) market through the ZEV standard over the last 10 years. California’s leadership has also benefited its economy, as EVs are now the state’s #1 export.
But other countries have caught and passed us when it comes to EV deployment. China and many European countries now have higher percentages of EV sales than the U.S. does. With global demand burgeoning, automakers have introduced more than twice as many EV models in Europe and more than five times as many models in China as they have in the U.S. In order to avoid being at the back of the line for the best clean vehicles, California needs to raise the bar and require manufacturers to sell their best – and most affordable – EVs here.
As soaring gas prices, choking smog, and extreme heat make clean electric transportation more urgent than ever, CARB should lead the way toward a zero-emission future.
Bill Magavern is Policy Director for the Coalition for Clean Air, a California non-profit working to protect public health, improve air quality and prevent climate change.
There is no denying the recent growth in the hydrogen and fuel cell industry – growth in interest and awareness; in public and private sector investment; in federal, state, and regional commitments; in the overall portfolio and scale of product offerings; and in the range of new players entering the marketplace.
As the national advocate for the industry, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA) has long been active on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and around the country, working with champions in Congress, key allies, and our diverse membership on key issues such as policies and programmatic funding, codes and standards development and harmonization, and education and outreach.
Over the past year, FCHEA has grown as well, expanding the association not just in size, but also in scope of market sectors, innovative technologies, and hydrogen generation pathways, representing the full spectrum of the industry from production to utilization, including mobility.
Around the world, hydrogen is increasingly recognized as a key tool in the decarbonization of society, specifically hard to abate sectors, including medium- and heavy-duty transportation, both on the road and off. Here in the U.S., there are already tens of thousands of fuel cell-powered cars, buses, and material handling vehicles deployed across the country, all running on hydrogen. In parallel, fuel cells are also providing resilient, reliant backup power to hybrid zero-emission EV charging solutions. Customers include major retailers such as Walmart and Amazon, as well as transit agencies and delivery companies.
Hydrogen’s potential to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use, and with the advantages of fast refueling, lighter weight, and long range, are opening pathways in logistics, aviation, and shipping. We are seeing more fuel cell trucks, utility vehicles, and even planes, trains, and ships enter operation and testing in the U.S. and around the world.
At the federal level, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies received a well-deserved boost in funding and support through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law, signed in November 2021, included $9.5 billion for clean hydrogen, with the bulk ($8 billion) allocated to developing ‘Hydrogen Hubs’ that will demonstrate diverse methods of production, processing, delivery, storage, and end-use of clean hydrogen across America.
While the hub funding has deservedly received a lot of attention from interested parties seeking to stake a claim in their respective region or state, the Infrastructure Act also contained numerous other provisions where hydrogen and fuel cells could make a significant impact in decarbonizing the nation’s transportation network. This includes programs focused on Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement; Alternative Fuel Infrastructure; Zero-Emission Ferries and Buses; Port Infrastructure; and more.
FCHEA’s membership includes automotive, trucking, and fuel cell original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with products geared towards light, medium, and heavy-duty transportation applications. These companies are developing and deploying a range of zero-emission vehicles for land, sea, and air, as well as working with other members and partners on the necessary hydrogen infrastructure to support them. As these other sections of the Infrastructure Bill start to take shape, we expect more prospects for our members and the technologies they offer, especially in support of the Hydrogen Hubs once that funding is awarded, as well as initiatives to green the nation’s ports, airports, and highways.
Outside of federal funding, members are investing billions of dollars in new and expanded facilities to increase U.S. hydrogen generation capacity across the country, and into new states and areas. These investments will not only expand supply but will also create jobs and boost economic growth in and around those locations.
FCHEA is excited for these opportunities because we believe in hydrogen and fuel cells and see firsthand the tremendous benefits they already bring to a range of applications and customers. With significant plans for scale-up of hydrogen production and utilization across the country, those benefits will be amplified, helping us reach the necessary environmental goals to decarbonize across industry sectors and stay competitive with the rest of the world down the road.
Frank Wolak is President and CEO of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association in Washington DC.
In the three decades the U.S. Department of Energy has sponsored Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) more than 27,000 students have participated. The vehicles have looked quite different over the years – from methanol-powered Chevrolet Corsicas in 1988 to hydrogen-powered Ford Explorers in the early 2000s, and performance hybrid-electric Camaros just a few years back. Every transformative stage of technology drives the need to attract new talent to the field, including engineers who fully understand the emerging fields of automotive engineering.
Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) has managed DOE’s AVTC program in partnership with the auto industry for more than 34 years. The program has evolved alongside the global auto industry, adding complexities and nuances to prepare the next generation of leaders to enter the workforce. DOE and ANL recently announced the latest AVTC, along with our partners General Motors and MathWorks, the EcoCAR Electric Vehicle (EV) Challenge starting in fall 2022.
The EcoCAR EV Challenge will build upon the program’s rich history to provide a hands-on educational experience that is empowering students to address the toughest mobility challenges facing our nation. The EV Challenge reflects the changing vehicle market. We need more EVs to overcome the climate crises we face. Transportation makes up the largest share of emissions in the U.S., and over half of those emissions come from passenger vehicles. EVs give us the means to eliminate those emissions. Last year, President Biden set a national goal of getting zero-emissions vehicles to make up half of new car and truck sales by 2030. These budding energy leaders are heeding the call. This challenge will help us build a diverse clean mobility workforce around this soon-to-skyrocket EV market.
The competition will challenge students to engineer a next-generation battery electric vehicle that deploys connected and automated vehicle (CAV) features to implement energy efficient and customer-pleasing features, while meeting the decarbonization needs of the automotive industry. General Motors will donate a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ to each team, challenging them to design, build, refine, and demonstrate the potential of their advanced propulsion systems and CAV technologies over four competition years. Teams will be tasked with complex, real-world technical challenges including enhancing the propulsion system of their LYRIQ to optimize energy efficiency while maintaining consumer expectations for performance and driving experience. As students work on the LYRIQ, they are developing real-world knowledge and skills that will help accelerate the transformation of the auto industry.
More than $6 million from the competition sponsors will be provided to the 15 competing universities, including five Minority Serving Institutions, for students to pursue advanced mobility research and experiential learning. This investment supports the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and faculty to help build an EV talent pipeline that reflects the diversity of America and makes room for more domestic manufacturing to strengthen our energy independence.
Teams will be challenged to identify and address specific equity and electrification issues in mobility through the application of innovative hardware and software solutions, conduct outreach to underserved communities and underrepresented youth to increase awareness about advanced mobility, and recruit underrepresented minorities into STEM fields.
At DOE, we are excited to see what these teams will accomplish in supporting the country’s transition to clean energy and electric vehicles. I encourage you to learn more about the 15 North American universities selected to join the EcoCAR EV Challenge by visiting ecocarevchallenge.org or discovering more about the rich history of AVTCs at avtcseries.org.
Michael Berube is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
A few years ago, my wife Shelly and I visited Greece. It filled me with wonder to think about how challenging life must have been, and yet the ancient Greeks built massive architectural structures without the modern tools and machines we have today.
When I think about the last 30 years of the biodiesel industry, I am reminded of the Greek God, Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, he pushed a giant boulder uphill for eternity. I’d say our industry, like other alternative fuels, has felt that way a number of times.
However, I’d say fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel are better represented by Athena. She was known to represent wisdom and the virtues of justice, skill, and victory. We have never let the challenges overtake our spirits. Instead, we have held our heads high and strategized our next moves. At last, we’re reaching a point we had long dreamed of – perhaps even beyond what we initially envisioned. The tables have turned. Our fuels are in demand to help people meet their goals and help America reach a low-carbon future. We’re here and we’re making an impact now – not waiting until decades into the future.
As the biodiesel industry celebrates its 30th anniversary, I am reminded that the soybean farmers, the soybean checkoff, and leaders who founded our organization had great faith, foresight, and fortitude. These humble beginnings in 1992 and the small group of leaders and visionaries who started our industry are the reason our industry, even today, seems like a family – and now a growing family! In 1992, no biodiesel had been produced commercially yet, and today, we produce 3 billion gallons a year of biodiesel and renewable diesel.
The emphasis on carbon reduction across the globe has opened new doors. Net-zero commitments from governments and corporations have raised interest in low carbon fuels like never before. We are making great strides in markets like marine, rail, and aviation that previously had been, at best, neutral to us. Likewise, when considering options to help reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicles and equipment, Original Equipment Manufacturers and fleets are also taking a much deeper look at us.
While electric solutions are still under development, clean advanced biofuels such as biodiesel and renewable diesel are readily available now for use in existing diesel engines. Most OEMs, including Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Cummins, and many others, currently support the use of 20 percent biodiesel blends in their diesel equipment. However, forward-looking fleets from coast to coast – including several in California, Chicago, Madison, Washington D.C., and New York City – are looking to higher blends of biodiesel, even up to B100, to lower their carbon footprint even more dramatically.
Our vision statement says that “biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel will be recognized as mainstream low carbon fuel options with superior performance and emission characteristics.” There is room for all these fuels at our industry’s family table. In that spirit, the National Biodiesel Board has added another leaf.
This January, we made it official: We are now Clean Fuels Alliance America.
This new brand will transform our image and position us as a proven, innovative part of America’s clean energy mix now and in the future. In the process, we’re inspiring America’s energy and transportation leaders to discover new sources of scalable, cleaner fuels.
Biodiesel remains a foundation of our association. Our country couldn’t be having real conversations about carbon reduction targets today if it weren’t for the work of those in biodiesel.
Athena was known as ‘one who fights in front.’ As Clean Fuels Alliance America, we move to the front, proudly blazing a new path forward in clean energy.
Donnell Rehagen serves as the CEO for Clean Fuels Alliance America, biomass-based diesel’s preeminent trade association. Clean Fuels Alliance America is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.
Around the nation, fleets are facing more scrutiny than ever before to reduce emissions. Headlines in recent months shout that it’s ‘now or never’ if we want any chance at slowing climate change. If we really want to make a difference on the environment, solutions need to be implemented immediately to start replacing dirty diesel and gasoline vehicles from the road as quickly as possible.
While fleet owners I talk to understand the significance of operating a clean fleet, I also continue to hear the same line, “I can’t be environmentally sustainable if I’m not financially sustainable.” Mistakenly, many fleet owners think that going green has to be an expensive endeavor. While that is true of some alternative fuel options, it’s not the reality for every energy source. Propane autogas is an affordable, clean, and available fuel that’s used by thousands of fleets around the country every day.
As we think about the larger decarbonization effort, it will take a diverse mix of clean energy sources to achieve this goal. Propane autogas’ role in the movement is to ensure energy equity by offering a low-carbon solution to medium-duty (class 3-7) fleet owners without cost-prohibitive barriers. When you factor in the cost of a new vehicle and the costs for fuel, fluids, maintenance, and repairs, propane autogas provides the lowest costs for the lifetime of the vehicle, providing a short return on investment.
Let’s consider just the cost of the fuel itself. As oil prices fluctuate, propane autogas can beat diesel on price per gallon by as much as 50 percent. In most cases, propane autogas suppliers will work with fleet owners to create a mutually beneficial fuel contract that allows fleets to lock in a set price per gallon for a period of time. This is another layer of protection against fluctuating fuel prices and is especially helpful during times of high gasoline or diesel prices like much of the country has experienced in recent weeks.
Plus, propane autogas infrastructure is also affordable. In most cases, propane suppliers will provide the infrastructure equipment to a fleet at no cost in exchange for a mutually beneficial fuel contract. The refueling infrastructure is also designed to scale and can easily adapt to the varying needs of any size fleet.
So, how clean is propane autogas? Today’s engines are 90 percent cleaner than mandated EPA standards, with effectively zero particulate matter emissions and 96 percent fewer NOx emissions than clean diesel engines. The latest propane autogas engine technology is classified as near-zero and has moved the fuel even closer to achieving zero emissions levels.
Not to mention, a recent study by the Propane Education & Research Council found propane-powered medium-duty vehicles provide a lower lifetime carbon footprint in the majority of U.S. states when compared to medium-duty EVs that are charged using those states’ electric grid. This is due to the amount of carbon that is produced from each state’s unique energy mix for electricity generation using coal, petroleum, or other primary sources.
While EVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, emissions are generated prior to the wheels turning on the road through the electric grid and the powertrain (chiefly battery manufacturing) production. When comparing the difference in lifecycle equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2eq) emissions of a single medium-duty vehicle, propane autogas on a national average emits 125 tons of CO2eq less than an electric medium-duty vehicle.
The study also reviewed the lifetime carbon emissions of a medium-duty vehicle operating on renewable propane – an energy source made from a mix of waste residues and sustainably sourced materials, including agricultural waste products, cooking oil, and meat fats. It has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane, but because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, it has an even lower carbon intensity. As the study found, renewable propane medium-duty vehicles currently provide a lower carbon footprint solution than comparable EVs in every U.S. state except Vermont.
As we think about both the immediate need to start reducing emissions today and the long-term goal of providing a better environment for the next generation, propane autogas is a critical energy source that will help to move the needle in both situations. Decarbonization will not be solved overnight. But propane’s role as a clean energy source that can help fleets conquer their financial sustainability will set us on the path to one day reach better environmental sustainability.
Steve Whaley is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council, Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles
Like most everybody, I see an endless array of delivery vehicles passing by every day and at all hours. While the presence of delivery vans is not a new phenomenon, it’s one that now occurs with increasing regularity because of a preference for buying online and the need to deliver ordered goods to our homes and businesses. These expanded deliveries – largely made with what’s categorized as ‘last mile delivery’ trucks and vans – come at a time when there’s also great concern about carbon emissions, fossil fuels use, and climate change. Thus, the challenge.
The answer is emerging in real time, taking the form of electric last mile delivery vans of all types from standard vans like the electric Ford E-Transit and ELMS Urban Delivery Van , to somewhat larger electric vans like the BrightDrop EV600 and Rivian Electric Delivery Van. Each represents the leading edge of what is surely an emerging and strategically important class of electric vehicle, and they will be joined by many others in the short years ahead.
One high profile examples comes from Amazon, which is expanding its zero-emission operations through a new deal with Stellantis that will find thousands of RAM ProMaster electric vans entering its delivery fleet in 2023. This adds to the online giant’s options as Rivian ramps up to deliver the first 10,000 of the 100,000 Amazon electric delivery van order with the company this year. Other multinational delivery giants aim to decrease their carbon footprint. For instance, UPS has an agreement with Arrival, a European company with a U.S. headquarters and microfactory in North Carolina, for an initial 10,000 electric van order.
An electric Chevrolet van is coming to complement GM’s electric BrightDrop electric van offerings and Mercedes-Benz will be bringing its electric Sprinter, now available in Europe, to our shores. Other major automakers – from Nissan and Toyota to Fiat and Volkswagen – are either selling electric commercial vans in offshore markets or are preparing to do so, though plans for bringing these electric vans to the U.S. are as yet unknown.
Some companies seek early entry into important market segments long before automakers begin offering their own specialized products. Lightning eMotors is a prime example of this. The Colorado-based company, a certified Ford Quality eVehicle Modifier, has been electrifying a variety of new medium-duty fleet models for years. including the Ford Transit full-size van. Among this company’s many fleet customers for its electric Transit delivery van is the international delivery service DHL Express. While Ford began offering its own E-Transit electric van starting with the 2022 model year, the automaker makes these available in cargo versions only. Lightning eMotors offers fleet customers both cargo and passenger versions of its electric Transit Van in a variety of configurations.
There’s more electric activity unfolding in the commercial market. Electrified light- and medium-duty vans are but one part of the solution, with many of the companies in this space, or about to enter it, also offering or planning to introduce medium-duty electric trucks to augment local and regional zero-emission package deliveries.
What’s important to note is the near-ideal fit all of these electric commercial vehicles present for delivery services, or for that matter as service vehicles for companies with large fleets like cable companies, utilities, and food delivery services, or tradesmen ranging from carpenters and plumbers to painters and electricians. For the most part, all of these vehicles are tasked with operating within a defined region or along specific routes, thus enabling seamless zero-emission operation throughout the workday.
Electric delivery vehicles represent a positive environmental statement for companies integrating them in their operations. Importantly, they are crucial to decreasing carbon emissions on a truly significant scale. Clearly, their time has come.
The electric revolution is upon us, the Infrastructure is not.
With the recent signing of the Glasgow Declaration on Zero Emission Cars and Vans at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, multiple automakers and 33 countries are now officially working toward the goal of making all new cars and vans sold globally zero emission by 2040. ‘Zero emission’ in this case is defined as producing zero greenhouse gas emissions at the tailpipe, as accomplished by electric vehicles, for example.
While much has been reported about the ever-increasing number of EV offerings and the growing interest and demand, there are still major hurdles to mainstream adoption. One of the most pressing is the dire lack of charging infrastructure.
Today, there are less than 2 million EVs in operation within the United States, according to some estimates, and fewer than 100,000 charging stations to service them — nearly a third of them in California. With projections for EVs in operation within the U.S. exceeding 25 million by 2030, the calculus on what it will take to keep those zero-emission vehicles running is staggering: Approximately 13 million EV stations need to be installed by 2030, which equates to 120,000 a month in the United States alone.
The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill just signed into U.S. law does include $7.5 billion earmarked for building out EV charging networks. But given the anticipated growth rate of EVs versus today’s infrastructure, it’s going to take a lot more than that. This is where companies like Charge Enterprises come in.
From on-the-go power banks to micro-mobility and EV charging stations, we design and engineer, select and source equipment, install, and coordinate software selection and if the customer requires, implement remote maintenance and monitoring services. So whether it’s a ChargePoint system or a Blink system, or a third-party charging company, what we do is the infrastructure build-out and ecosystem planning of the site location. Servicing and educating the client is critical in establishing a reliable, safe, scalable and flexible site for future demands.
We are equipment- and software-agnostic, which means that we can provide custom solutions with careful consideration of various business use cases to ensure efficient, effective, design plans that not only satisfy current needs but also account for future scalability, growth, and ever-advancing technology. Our experienced team with nationwide scale offers turnkey engineering, design, equipment and software specifications, planning, sourcing, and installation for EV charging ecosystems.
As important as EV infrastructure is, true global sustainability isn’t confined to how we fuel our mobility. That’s why our recent strategic alliance with the National Community Renaissance, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit developers of LEED certified affordable housing, is such a critical compliment to Charge’s infrastructure solutions for intelligent wireless campuses. This partnership will further align with National CORE’s dedication to providing high-performance affordable housing that integrates energy and sustainability to reduce harmful emissions, making all communities more sustainable, healthy and equitable places to live, work, and play – especially historically disadvantaged communities.
The demand for clean, sustainable charging infrastructure is building, whether for commercial properties, fleet depots, truck/van centers, retail facilities, auto dealerships, government, or residential. Our strategy is to make it simple for everyone to switch to an EV and other electrified technology. We’re helping accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward a fully electric future.
Andrew Fox is Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Charge Enterprises, a portfolio of global businesses specializing in communications and electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.
It seems we’re well past the tipping point for electric cars now, 25 years after GM’s groundbreaking but short-lived EV1 electric car made its way to the highway. Back then, after daily life with an EV1 during a year-long test and then watching it sadly leave on a flatbed for parts unknown, I knew well the future potential that modern electric vehicles would hold. In the decades since then, automakers have committed to huge investments in expanding their electric vehicle offerings, suppliers have stepped up with new innovations, and consumers are now interested like never before. Plus, of course, some serious government regulation and incentives are driving the electric car field ahead in ways that only government can.
But there are challenges ahead. It isn’t enough that far better electric cars are being built today with compelling features, attractive designs, and desirable performance and range. Many other elements must fall into place for electric vehicles to become the success story we all hope will come to pass, so addressing key inhibitors of an electric feature is crucial. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reality checks that are top-of-mind.
Back in the 1990s when there was great excitement at the prospect of electric cars, there were also big questions. There was no battery front-runner, though there were many technologies and chemistries at play including advanced lead-acid, nickel cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, sodium-sulfur, sodium-bromine, zinc-air, lithium-ion, and more. Still, choices had to be made so EV programs could move forward. Ultimately, advanced lead-acid won out for small vehicle programs and the first generation of GM EV1s, followed by better and more energy-dense electric car batteries like nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion.
Today, nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion batteries are primarily used for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles. Lithium-ion, or one of its cousins like lithium-polymer, is used for electric vehicles due to its greater energy density and thus longer driving range. However, lithium batteries are costly and additional challenges remain.
Of great concern are instances of thermal runaway issues and a limited number of spontaneous vehicle fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. Some Teslas have suffered from such battery fires, and GM can certainly attest to this unexpected challenge since it has been involved in a recall of all Chevy Bolt EVs made due to potential fire issues, to the tune of about $1.8 billion. Hyundai went through its own recall with the Kona EV for similar issues with its batteries.
Battery technology continues to improve and costs have gravitated downward in recent years, making the cost of building electric vehicles more reasonable, though still considerably higher than building internal combustion vehicles. Yes, there are substantial cost savings realized by owning and driving an electric vehicle. But to truly be a success, at some point there must be truly affordable electric vehicles for everyone to buy, and battery safety issues must be fully resolved.
The ideal location for electric vehicle charging is at home with a 220-volt Level 2 wall charger. All mainstream electric vehicles support this type of charging, plus significantly slower charging with a portable ‘convenience’ charger plugged in a standard 110-volt household outlet.
Charging up with a 220-volt wall charger is convenient and efficient, with a full charge typically coming in about 2 to 10 hours, depending on the vehicle being charged and the battery’s energy level when you plug in. Simply, if your battery shows 40 miles of range left, it will take considerably longer to fully charge than if 140 miles of range is shown. For convenience, electric vehicle owners typically plug in at home during the evening so there’s a fully-charged EV waiting for them in the morning.
EV owners living in apartments, condos, and elsewhere – including dense urban areas where there may be no garage – need other solutions. To a limited degree, this is being addressed with pay-for-use chargers in common areas or even dedicated outside chargers at assigned parking spaces. Public chargers are also being installed in increasing numbers in urban developments as part of a growing public charging network. In addition, the number of chargers provided at the workplace is seeing greater interest, allowing EV owners to energize their batteries while parked at work.
Charging away from home is becoming easier with a significant expansion of a public charging network by companies like Electrify America, ChargePoint, Blink Charging, EVgo, SemaCharge, Volta, and Tesla. Still, this is a relatively nascent effort with charging opportunities far eclipsed by the abundant and convenient opportunities to refuel gasoline vehicles. Plus, to offer the kind of charging most meaningful to drivers, public chargers must ultimately offer fast-charge capability that enables gaining an additional 80 or 100 miles of range in just 20 to 30 minutes, if an EV is fast-charge capable. This network is growing but far from adequate, especially if it’s to keep pace with the large number of electric vehicles coming to our highways. Building out a nationwide network of fast chargers is costly since the investment for each is in the neighborhood of $100,000.
Many electric vehicle enthusiasts and electric utilities are quick to point out that our existing electrical grid can adequately handle the charging needs of millions of EVs on the road. We’re not so sure. Plus, if the aspirations of EV enthusiasts come to fruition, there will be many more than just a few million EVs on the road in the future.
For years, certain areas of the country have experienced power outages as electricity demand outpaced grid capacity. Heat waves exacerbate this as air conditioning use soars, something made even worse in recent times with record-setting temperatures attributed to climate change. Given the trends pointed out by climate experts, these extraordinary heat waves are likely to increase.
To this point, the California Independent System Operator, which manages electricity delivered through California’s long-distance power lines, issued multiple Flex Alerts last summer. The Flex Alerts included a request for EV owners to charge in the morning and early daytime hours to avoid placing additional load on an already-overtaxed grid. While that request is counterintuitive to the long-held notion that charging EVs overnight is ideal since electrical demand lessens during overnight hours, it may make sense in a state like California that increasingly relies on renewable power as an important, zero-emission component of electrical generation. Simply, renewables like solar and wind-generated power wane at night.
Another challenge to a future of large-scale electric vehicle charging is the increasing frequency and scope that wildfires pose to the reliable delivery of electricity. In California, a long-time leader in encouraging electric vehicles, this could become a particularly vexing issue as the state continues to battle historic wildfires. Because downed powerlines have sparked numerous catastrophic fires here, the state’s electric utilities can – and have – preemptively initiated Public Safety Power Shutoffs that cut power to regions expected to experience high winds that could cause trees to damage electrical lines. No power, no charging.
Still, this doesn’t mean that an increasingly ‘smart’ grid can’t support large numbers of electric vehicles or that strategic, system-wide upgrades can’t be made to allow the grid to effectively deal with the challenges of wind, wildfires, and climate change. It does mean we should be aware of the potential for problems and make no assumptions, but rather plan far in advance to ensure that electric vehicle charging can be done consistently and won’t overwhelm the nation’s electrical grid in any way.
Electric vehicles remain a very small part of today’s new vehicle market – perhaps 3% or so and growing – for a multitude of reasons. Among these are cost, the perception that a battery electric vehicle may not fulfill a driver’s varying needs, and a general hesitation to embrace what many perceive as an unfamiliar and unproved propulsion technology. When enough of your friends and neighbors are driving electric and others see how well EVs fit their driving needs, that’s all likely to change. But we have a long way to go.
There are more people today than ever who have a decent grasp of electric cars and how they work because of the much greater exposure these vehicles have in the general media. That said, there is a greater percentage that really have no clue. That must change if electric cars are to increase market share to the degree that people want and expect. EV education must happen at all levels, and fast.
New car dealers have a unique opportunity to share knowledge of electric cars with would-be buyers, especially if a dealership is committed to the cause and there’s a knowledgeable EV specialist on hand. While a new generation of automakers aiming to exclusively sell EVs have their educational and outreach strategy down, legacy automakers largely do not. Those coming to dealerships are generally prospecting for a new car purchase or lease, now or later. They want to compare models and features, sit behind the wheel, and take a test drive.
While more electric vehicle product is being offered than in previous years, most buyers will not gravitate toward them naturally. What better opportunity than to encourage a first drive of a new electric model? The experience will be enlightening for those who have never been behind the wheel of an electric, with the seamless driving experience and unexpected performance a likely surprise. Leaving a dealership with a greater understanding of electric vehicles and how they work will return rewards, whether in the short- or long-term.
If you bet everything on a decision that may drive you past the point of no return, is it the right choice? That depends on the outcome, of course. It worked for Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in the film Field of Dreams, as he literally bet the farm on blind faith that forces beyond understanding would beckon folks to the baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfield. The movie was compelling and its emotional attraction undeniable. So, too, is the prospect of millions of zero-emission electric vehicles plying our nation’s highways.
We were able to relive Field of Dreams in 2021 as the Yankees and White Sox played a real-life game at a Major League Baseball stadium amid the cornfields, next to the Dyersville, Iowa diamond seen in Field of Dreams. And now we’re living with the very real prospect of an electric vehicle future, with many dedicated people, companies, and institutions focused on making it happen. Still, will that brand of faith work for electric cars?
Amid all the challenges, automakers new and old are betting their future – and possibly ours – that it will.
As we forge ahead in 2021, consumers and businesses alike are feeling a sense of cautious optimism. While the personal, political, and professional anxieties from last year won’t go away with the flip of a calendar, we can share reasons for hope for a brighter year ahead. One of those reasons is around a renewed focus on climate action, specifically around clean transportation through electric vehicles (EVs) and the charging infrastructure to support them. This hope is giving many of us a brighter – and greener – outlook for 2021 and beyond.
It’s exciting to see a growing wave of electric vehicle offerings on the horizon, helping create more interest and demand than ever before. But while new makes and models are inspiring, the industry is reaching an inflection point. Making EVs mainstream will require much more than just the vehicles themselves. The U.S. and the world need significantly more charging infrastructure and a stronger overall charging ecosystem to drive true adoption, things my colleagues and I work toward every day.
Let’s think about existing infrastructure as a starting point. Currently, there are well over a million individual gas pumps across the United States, and almost everybody is familiar with how they operate. For reference, there are less than 100,000 individual public chargers, and most Americans don’t know how to use them. The collective ‘we’ have some work cut out for us.
For EVs to really take off, consumers need to start seeing charging stations much more frequently than they do today. And the charging experience needs to take minutes, not hours. That’s why Electrify America is building the nation’s largest open, ultra-fast DC fast charging network, with chargers capable of up to 350 kW. We’re investing heavily to ensure the EVs of today and of the future will be able to charge faster than ever imagined. By the end of 2021, we expect to install or have under development approximately 800 total charging stations with about 3,500 DC fast chargers, including along two cross-country routes.
One of the many benefits of EVs is the ability to offer drivers multiple options when it comes to powering up. Charging is still a new experience for most, so emphasizing this point has been meaningful in our ongoing EV education and awareness efforts. Offering seamless solutions for home and workplace charging, in addition to continued focus on public ultra-fast charging, is helping to build confidence for any driver or fleet operator interested in making the switch to electric transportation.
As enthusiastic as we are about our progress, we know we can’t create the infrastructure and EV ecosystem needed to ignite this revolution alone. We need industry partners, automakers, utilities, businesses, and government to all come together to accelerate our charging capabilities to help spur future EV adoption – and we’re working with many groups to make that happen. A lack of collaboration can crush this movement, which remains in a hopeful, yet fragile place. More investment and partnerships across the board are what will keep the momentum going to adequately handle a growing number of EVs. That’s why we believe continued investment in charging will drive EV adoption, and that all stakeholders should be fully supporting all charging industry growth.
While lack of public charging remains a main deterrent for EV purchase consideration – an issue we are working hard to address – the true beauty of EVs is that between home, public, and workplace charging options, drivers will actually have more opportunities to power their vehicles than gas-powered cars. And that’s a future worth celebrating.
As Chief Scientist for Toyota Motor Corporation, one of my most important responsibilities is to think about how to address climate change using science, data, and facts. When it comes to electrification, my role is to maximize environmental benefits with the limited number of battery cells the world can produce.
Toyota’s way of thinking about this question is strongly influenced by the Toyota Production System (TPS). It forms the basis for how we conserve resources and eliminate waste to maximize the quality, durability, reliability, and value of our products. Based on TPS, we believe that maximum net environmental benefit can be achieved by considering the most limited resource – in this case the battery cell.
Every battery cell is an investment of environmental and financial resources. Carbon is emitted for every battery cell produced. Once built, every battery cell has the potential to produce more benefit than what was invested, or what we call a positive Carbon Return on Investment (CROI). But that CROI is not guaranteed. The result depends on how the battery cell is put to use. The physics of climate change (which accumulates carbon in the atmosphere for decades) and limited battery cell production suggests that we minimize total carbon emissions from all of the world’s vehicles by maximizing the CROI of every manufactured battery cell.
Let’s consider the average U.S. commute of 32 miles roundtrip each day. In this case, a 300 mile range battery will yield a very low CROI. The reason is that the vehicle carries excessive battery capacity and excessive weight that is rarely needed or used. The bulk of the energy stored in the battery cell (and the battery cell’s weight) will be carried around most of the time for no purpose, consuming extra energy for its transport, and wasting the opportunity to use that energy for more benefit to the environment. In TPS terms, we consider this to be a waste of transport and inventory. Put another way, that same battery capacity could be spread over a handful of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), each of which would utilize most, if not all, of the battery capacity while rarely using its internal combustion engine (ICE). In this case, the overall CROI is higher for the same number of battery cells.
As another example: If a battery cell in a battery electric vehicle (BEV) is recharged by a high-carbon intensity powerplant, the CROI of that cell will be small compared to one recharged by a renewable energy powerplant. So in this case, consider a situation of two cars – one ICE-type and one BEV, and two geographic locations – one with renewable power and the other with high-carbon intensity power. More net CROI will be derived by operating the BEV in the area with renewable power and the ICE in the geography with non-renewable power than the other way around.
Finally, if a battery cell ends up in a long-range BEV whose price puts it beyond the budget of a consumer, or in a street parked vehicle that must use high-rate chargers that lower the battery cell’s life, the CROI will again be smaller than what is possible, versus placing the battery cell into, for example, a PHEV.
BEVs are an important part of the future of electrification. But we can achieve greater carbon reductions by meeting customer needs and circumstances with a diversity of solutions. Wasted CROI harms the environment because there is a limited supply of battery cells, and the cost of production to the planet and to the producer is not zero. Given this fact, how and where battery cells are actually used and charged are critically important.
In summary, given limited battery cell production and significant environmental and financial costs, the way to maximize CROI is to target battery cells into diverse vehicle types – hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles that match customer needs and circumstances, and maximize the CROI for every battery cell. This strategy is similar to running a factory efficiently in the Toyota Production System, where efficiency is maximized by eliminating waste at each stage of production and maximizing the benefit derived from every resource and cost. And it forms the basis for Toyota’s belief in this result.
Here’s the thing about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): You get the benefits of a battery electric vehicle for driving a certain number of zero-emission miles, with the versatility of a gas-electric hybrid without range limitations. There’s no secret to it, and it’s that simple. But PHEV ownership does take some thought, and some effort.
The thought part is straightforward. If you’re in the market for a PHEV and your intent is to drive electric as much as possible, then part of the decision making is choosing a new plug-in hybrid model offering a battery electric range that fits your driving patterns. Some plug-in hybrids offer battery electric range as low as 14 to 19 miles, with a great many featuring electric range in the low to high 20s. Some raise that number up to 42 or 48 miles of battery electric driving, like the Toyota Prius Prime and Honda Clarity PHEV, before requiring a charge or the addition of combustion power. Many families find the electric range of Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid to be entirely workable at 32 miles, with its total 520 miles of driving range reassuring for any driving need.
The effort in owning a PHEV is that you need to install a 240-volt home wall charger and commit to using it to gain maximum benefit. Really, that’s no different than an all-electric vehicle, with the exception that an electric vehicle must be charged to function, while a PHEV will continue operating with the aid of combustion power once batteries are depleted. Both can be charged with a 120-volt convenience charger plugged into a standard household outlet, but that’s rarely a good option since the charging time at 120 volts is so long, while charging at 240 volts is comparatively short. The goal in achieving maximum benefit, of course, is to keep a PHEV charged in any event so you’re operating on battery power whenever possible.
What range do you really need? If your daily driving or commute is about 20 miles – as is the case for so many – then choose a PHEV with a battery electric range offering that capability, or more. Drivers with longer average daily drives should choose a PHEV with greater all-electric range. If you charge every night and wake up with a fully-charged battery ready for your day’s regular activities, you’ll likely find trips to the gas station unnecessary until longer drives are needed. In those cases, there’s nothing to think about because the transition from battery to combustion power happens seamlessly behind the scenes, with no driver action required. Yes, you’ll want to keep gas in the tank for those eventualities, but if your daily use fits within your rated electric range then fill-ups will be infrequent.
From my perspective, the ability to drive electric most of the time with the ability to motor on for hundreds of additional miles without thought is a win-win. I’ve been doing this for years with a variety of PHEV test cars, and more than a year-and-a-half now over 30,000 miles in a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. As much as possible, my driving is electric with zero localized emissions, as long as I’m consistent about plugging in at night and my charger isn’t required for another test car. I’m driven to do that not only because driving with zero emissions is the right thing to do, but also because electricity offers a cheaper cost-per-mile driving experience. If you’re on a utility’s electric vehicle rate plan and charge at off-peak hours, there’s even more money to be saved. And let’s not forget the blissful and effortless convenience of charging at home, right?
Any claim that PHEVs won’t deliver their desired environmental benefit is based on assumptions that drivers won’t plug in. That isn’t likely, given that PHEV drivers have paid, sometimes significantly, for the privilege of having a plug-in capability. The notion may have its roots in an unrelated alternative fuel story years ago, when we witnessed the phenomena of motorists driving flexible-fuel E85 ethanol/gasoline vehicles without ever fueling up with E85 alternative fuel. That occurred because of a loophole that allowed automakers to gain significant fuel economy credits by offering flexible-fuel vehicles without any consideration whether drivers would ever fuel up with E85 ethanol. Those vehicles were sold at no premium by the millions, with most drivers unaware their vehicle had an alternative fuel capability or whether E85 fueling stations were nearby.
But this is different. While you have the option to use public charging stations, and that’s a nice benefit enjoyed by many EV and PHEV owners, if you do this right there will be a plug in your garage that requires no effort at all to keep your PHEV charged up. Consider, too, that if a buyer spends the extra money for the plug-in hybrid variant of a popular model, there’s clearly an incentive to plug in most of the time to make the most of one’s PHEV investment.
PHEVs will be with us a long while because they are a sensible solution for many who wish to drive electric, and when used as intended they represent a logical pathway for the all-electric future many envision. There’s no doubt that the increasing number of plug-in hybrids coming now, and in the years ahead, will aim at greater electric driving range than the models that came before them. More choices and greater range will provide an even more compelling reason to step up to a plug-in hybrid for the daily drive.
Since the launch of Green Car Journal in 1992, it’s been clear to me that environmental compatibility isn’t just a passing phase. Today, the most forceful drivers of change are the need to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce mankind’s potential impacts on our global climate. But long before that, there were other imperatives already prompting a rethinking of mobility and how it was affecting our collective lives.
Urban areas were often choked with smog, the result of far too many vehicles on the road, with levels of tailpipe emissions that would be unthinkable today. Major cities across the country were in non-compliance with air quality standards. Smog alerts recommending limited outdoor activity were an unfortunate and regular occurrence in major cities and regions. I lived this growing up in the greater metropolitan L.A. area, as the smog from Los Angeles migrated some 50 miles eastward and stopped at the San Gabriel Mountains two miles from my home, causing the mountain range to magically disappear in the haze every summer.
Still, there were bright spots amid the haze. California launched its Low Emission Vehicle Program in 1990, mandating cleaner vehicles in the years ahead. Part of this landmark program was the Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate that helped accelerate electric vehicle research and development, and ultimately drove auto manufacturers to get serious about vehicle electrification.
An important part of Green Car Journal’s mission over the years has been to explain the benefits and characteristics of ‘green’ cars of all types, regardless of their approach to better environmental impact. In the end, the goal has always been to present an overview of the directions, technologies, and fuels being explored, dive down into specifics, and enable readers to make up their own minds on what’s important based on what they learn.
A complementary part of this has been the Green Car Awards, starting with the magazine’s annual Green Car of the Year® award first presented at the L.A. Auto Show in 2005. Green Car Journal editors conduct significant research every year to review the universe of new models to consider as the ‘best-of-the-best’ that exhibit commendable environment performance. Through an extensive vetting process, the field is narrowed down to five finalists for each award category. The goal has remained the same since that first award program in 2005 – recognize vehicles that significantly raise the bar in environmental performance and exhibit environmental leadership.
When it comes to positive change, leadership is important. A new direction acknowledging the automobile’s impact on our environment is important. New and better choices that speak to our future are important. These are among the compelling reasons why the Green Car Awards exist.
In the early years of the Green Car Awards, there were relatively few truly worthy vehicles to be considered. But change, though slow, has been ongoing. Now our cities and streets benefit from an ever-growing number of vastly more efficient, lower emission, and environmentally positive vehicle choices powered by advanced or electrified powerplants. Today, ‘green’ cars have come into their own through design, innovation, and consumer desire. That last part is crucial. Auto manufacturers have done a good job of bringing an increasing number of advanced and electrified vehicles to market. They have invested heavily, even subsidizing some models’ real cost along the way, to make them approachable to buyers. But a serious and sustained desire for these vehicles had been lacking…until now.
Thankfully, the tipping point for ‘green’ cars is now behind us. While not all new car buyers are in the market for a high efficiency, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric vehicle, the numbers are no longer small, and they’re growing significantly. Interest and demand are up. Consumers are eager to know more and they want to understand which vehicles, and manufacturers, are leading the field. And we’re proud that our annual Green Car Awards help deliver this critical information.
It’s no surprise that the move toward electrics is also being driven by growing consumer interest in vehicles that address the challenges of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Those who don’t see this this transition aren’t paying attention. However, taking this as a sign that the imminent end of the internal combustion vehicle is upon us assumes too much. The numbers and trends do not bear this out.
While our focus here is on all ‘greener’ vehicles offering lower emissions, higher efficiency, and greater environmental performance, we give significant focus to electrification on GreenCarJournal.com because, to a large degree, this represents our driving future. There are many electrified vehicles now on the market that have met with notable success, particularly gasoline-electric hybrids. In fact, hybrids have become so mainstream after 20 years that most people don’t look at them differently. They simply embrace these vehicles as a normal part of their daily lives, enjoying a familiar driving experience as their hybrids deliver higher fuel efficiency and fewer carbon emissions.
Less transparent are electric vehicles of all types because they have a plug, something that’s not familiar to most drivers. This includes plug-in hybrids that really are seamless since they offer both electric and internal combustion drive. The challenge is especially pronounced for all-electric vehicles that drive exclusively on batteries.
A recent survey of consumers and industry experts by JD Power underscores this. Even as the overall survey indicated most respondents had neutral confidence in battery electric vehicles, many said their prospect for buying an electric vehicle was low. They also had concerns about the reliability of battery electric vehicles compared to conventionally powered models. Clearly, there’s work to be done in educating people about electric vehicles, and it will take time.
Overall, automakers do a good job of providing media with the latest information on their electrification efforts, new electric models, and electrified vehicles under development. That’s why you’ll read so much about electric vehicles in mainstream media and learn about them on the news.
What’s less evident is that consumers truly learn what they need to know about plug-in vehicles at new car showrooms. Car dealerships are critical even in an era where online car buying is starting to gain traction. Showrooms are still where the vast majority of new car buyers shop for their next car, and the influence salespeople have on a consumer’s purchase decision is huge.
The JD Power study illustrates consumers’ lack of understanding about the reliability of electric vehicles…even though reliability is a given since electrics have far fewer moving parts to wear and break than conventional vehicles. Dealer showrooms can help resolve this lack of understanding with readily-available materials about electric car ownership, a sales force willing to present ‘green’ options to conventional vehicles, plus adequate stock of electrified vehicles – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric – to test drive.
Sales trends tell us that conventional internal combustion vehicles will represent the majority of new car sales for quite some time. More efficient electrified vehicles will continue to make inroads, but not at the pace many would like, even at a time when greater numbers of electric models are coming to market. In the absence of forward-thinking dealerships willing to invest in change, an enthusiastic sales force eager to share the benefits of electrics, and auto manufacturers willing to incentivize dealers to sell electric, this promises to be a long road. It’s time to change this dynamic.