Sacramento and East Bay Clean Cities Forum explores advanced vehicle technology innovations

Sacto and East Bay Clean Cities“Northern California Clean Technology Forum” featured informative speaker panels and introduction to the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car. Held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento on Oct 14-15, and hosted by the Sacramento and East Bay Clean Cities Coalitions, stakeholders in the region met to mingle, hear the latest on advanced vehicle technologies, and check out exhibited vehicles including plug-in electric school buses; there was also one of the few remaining GM EV1 models on display in the conference room.

The event kicked off Wednesday with a tour of the Sacramento CNG Station and Natural Gas Compliant Shop. A welcome reception started off the evening prior to the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition 2015 Clean Air Champion Awards. Richard Battersby, Equipment Services Manager for the City of Oakland and Coordinator and Executive Director of the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition, handed out awards to: Ben Rutledge, Resident Engineer, Anheuser Busch In-Bev, Fairfield Brewery; Pat O’Keefe, Vice President and Lori O’Keefe, Project Manager, Golden Gate Petroleum; Nina Hapner, Environmental Director and Fred Carr, EV Project Director, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewart’s Point Rancheria; Phillip Kobernick, Sustainability Project Manager, Alameda County; and Kent Leacock, Director of Government Relations, Proterra.

On Thursday, Keith Leech, President of Sacramento Clean Cities and Chief, Fleet Division & Parking for Sacramento County, made opening remarks on topics to be addressed during the day. The first speaker panel started with Kerry Drake, Associate Director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 9, talking about the gains being made in the Central Valley to meet the EPA’s top priorities, public health and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Drake compared the museum’s vehicle display of classic cars going back to the 1920s to where we are now; he described his trip to the museum using Google Maps, being a carsharing subscriber, and looking forward to seeing the upcoming Tesla Autopilot.

Mike Tunnell, Director of Environmental Affairs at American Trucking Associations, talked about the trucking industry facing the second phase of the federal regulations on fuel economy and emissions. Technology innovations need to be reached for this to be possible, Tunnell said. Waste heat recovery, 6×2 axle configurations, automatic engine shutoff, low rolling resistance tires, and automatic tire inflation are resources being tapped into for mileage improvements.

Bill Van Amburg, Senior Vice President at CALSTART, gave an overview of 2016 model year roll-outs in clean vehicles. The Mirai, a Japanese word for “future,” was up on the stage with Van Amburg and other speakers; that fuel-cell vehicle is launching this month in California.  The 2016 Toyota Prius, with its revamped exterior, is also being anticipated in the market.

On the commercial vehicle side, Van Amburg discussed innovations being adopted as increased fuel economy pushes forward in Phase 2 of the federal rules; breakthroughs on this front include a Freightliner model that has increased from 6 mpg to 12 mpg and a Cummins engine with NOx 90% below its 2010 level. Renewable natural gas is coming to market, and Cummins said that the clean fuel can now be used in its 6.6L and 12L engines. Two other innovations that Van Amburg discussed include the Cadillac Super Cruise hands-free system rolling out in 2017 Cadillac models; and the Workhorse battery electric “HorseFly” package delivery drone winning U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorization for test flights.

Rich Piellisch, Editor of Fleets & Fuels, moderated a panel on renewable fuel sources moving forward as a viable alternative for fleets. Speakers included Teri Rohner, CA DGS Natural Gas Services Program on renewable natural gas; Pat O’Keefe, CEO of Golden Gate Petroleum on renewable gasoline and diesel; Chris Kretz, Business Development Manager at Air Products on renewable hydrogen; and Bill Boyce, Electric Transportation Supervisor at Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) on renewable electricity.

During that same day, the City of Oakland announced its commitment to renewable diesel when the first of its vehicles filled up with NEXDIESEL renewable diesel during a gathering of the Public Works Department, its supplier Golden Gate Petroleum and fuel manufacturer, Neste. Golden Gate Petroleum sells Neste’s NEXBTL renewable diesel under its own brand NEXDIESEL renewable diesel and had display cars outside the automotive museum.

Green Auto Market Editor Jon LeSage moderated a panel on future vehicle technologies and transportation trends. Jean-Baptiste Gallo, Senior Project Engineer at CALSTART; Jason Schulz, Partnership Marketing Manager & Business Development for the 21st Century at Toyota; and Tim Lipman PhD, Co-Director at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley, talked about the “urbanization” trend with traffic congestion and air pollution driving policy changes and increased use of transportation alternatives such as carsharing and ridesharing. Carsharing services such as Zipcar and Car2Go are taking off in membership, and ridesharing services from Uber and Lyft are seeing gains in permission to pick up at airports and in ridership numbers.

With predictions of another one billion people living on the planet by 2025, Toyota is looking at alternatives such as the electric I-Road three-wheeler being testing out in Japan, Schulz said. Automakers are looking at the changing transportation options that members of the Millennial generation who put off car purchases longer than previous generations, and who are looking for practical options in personal mobility in crowded cities.

During the panel’s discussion of autonomous vehicle technologies, Schulz said that for OEMs, safety is the driving force behind supporting test projects such as Mcity in Ann Arbor, Mich. Toyota, Honda, GM, and suppliers are exchanging data from the Mcity project to develop autonomous technologies and take away the 33,000 fatalities per year figure that continues in the U.S. Safety issues and cyber security are being addressed in the autonomous vehicle studies, as is the question of whether driverless cars will take away road traffic congestion, Lipman said. If long commutes become easier for watching TV or reading a book, it can take away the motivation to drive less miles and remove some of the traffic congestion, he said. Lipman and his colleagues have seen a strong convergence between electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies.

Electrification of urban fleets is seeing gains in passenger vehicles and truck options, Gallo said. Energy storage, smart grid technologies, and electricity price planning are being explored by companies. A recent CALSTART study analyzed how fleets are integrating electric vehicles including delivery trucks and transit buses. Managing through demand periods when energy costs rise is still new for a lot of fleets, and they’re testing out solutions in the new vehicle-to-grid systems.

An afternoon session featured fleet success stories using GPS/telematics for sustainability gains. Dave Head, President of NorCalMEMA; David Worthington, Fleet Manager, Sonoma County; Doug Bond, Fleet Manager, Alameda County; and Sam Pence, Heavy Equipment Mechanic Leadworker, CalTrans, participated on this panel.

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