ACT Expo 2014 sees strong attendance and a broad platform for alternative fuels and technologies

ACT Expo 2014Alternative, clean transportation appears to be gaining support – as evidenced last week during ACT Expo 2014 at the Long Beach, Calif., convention center. Now in its fourth year since inception, the conference’s attendance was up – perhaps as many as 4,000 attendees, making it the largest event of its type in the US and perhaps the world. ACT Expo keynote speakers, workshops, ride and drive, and an expanded exhibit hall, featured the latest in alternative fuel vehicle technology, the regulatory environment, and cost-benefit analysis by fleets.

ACT Expo has become something of a broad platform for fuels, vehicles, and technologies of all types to be well represented, and for stakeholders in these industries to network. The American Trucking Associations worked with organizers of the event for the first time this year; NAFA Fleet Management Association also played a key organizing role along with the US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership.

Another innovation launched this year was co-located events. Propane Education & Research Council was one of the leading sponsors of the event and held its “Lead the Way” propane autogas summit; NGV Global held its annual conference in tandem with ACT Expo and led a Technical Forum; California Hydrogen Business Council held its spring summit there; “Alternative Fuel Toolkit for Local Governments, Fleet Managers, and Employers Workshop” was presented by another leading sponsor, South Coast Air Quality Management District; and “Women in Alternative Clean Transportation Summit” was organized by ACT Expo management firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates. There were a few field trip events coordinated with ACT Expo as well, including a heavy-duty natural gas tour with site visits to the Clean Energy station at Port of Long Beach and the Waste Management Carson station featuring LNG and CNG fueling.

The kickoff keynote speaker during Tuesday’s luncheon was Dennis Slagle, executive vice president group truck sales & marketing Americas, Volvo Group. The truck manufacturer aims to be the world leader in sustainable transportation through its Volvo, Mack, UD, Prevost, Novobus, and other heavy duty truck and bus brands. Volvo operates a comprehensive green vehicle portfolio in transport with natural gas, clean diesel, dimethyl ether (DME), and bi-fuel vehicles. Volvo is working with Cummins on bringing in a 13 liter LNG engine next year. Slagle called for a common sense regulatory approach in Washington, and asked for renewal of expired tax incentives.

Erik Neandross, CEO of event organizer Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, led a panel right after Slagle’s presentation featuring prominent leaders in the industry. Clean Energy Fuels president and CEO Andrew Littlefair gave some interesting statistics including heavy duty trucks using 25 billion gallons of natural gas last year, taking the lead, by far, as a user category. There are 19 million natural gas vehicles in operation globally today, but only 142,000 are in the US. There is a lot happening out there, and Littlefair made reference to supermarket giant Kroger’s announcement that day on how it replaced 40 diesel trucks with that same amount of LNG trucks in Oregon.

Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) president and CEO Roy Willis said that in addition to light and medium duty trucks, propane is being widely used in material handling, generators, irrigation, and landscaping (such as mowers). There are about 600,000 propane-powered forklifts in operation in the US. There are about 140,000 propane-powered passenger and commercial vehicles on US roads; as for sales, there were about 14,000 units sold in the US last year (about half OEM and half conversion);  75% are light duty (mostly pickups and police cars) and 25% are medium duty including school buses. PERC forecasts that there will about 18,500 propane autogas vehicles sold in the US this year and about 25,000 in 2015. In a separate interview, Willis said there’s a strong sense of momentum being experienced in propane autogas, even with expiration of the fuel tax credit at the end of 2013. Direct injection engines are holding a lot of promise; Willis talked about the PERC project with Southwest Research Institute, Ford, General Motors, and Hyundai on direct injection.

National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe talked about the ongoing battle in Washington – and how oil industry spokespeople are lobbying with misinformation about the Renewable Fuel Standard (with examples being shown in video segments) while also covering up their abundant federal subsidies. States are opening up to biodiesel such as Minnesota mandating that 10% of its diesel will soon be biodiesel. Via Motors chairman of the board Bob Lutz championed the breakthroughs electric vehicles are on the cusp of experiencing. He said that next-gen, lithium-sulfur batteries will have five times as much energy density as lithium-ion batteries.

Alex Freitag, director of diesel systems engineering at Robert Bosch, led a panel on light-duty diesel as a growing alternative. The 20% to 30% of fuel efficiency gains, along with huge reductions in NOx, hydrocarbons and particulate matter, have made diesel-powered vehicles much more viable for fleets and for consumers in the US. Mike McGarry, fleet product planning manager and green fleet support at General Motors, and William Craven, general manager of regulatory affairs at Daimler AG/Mercedes-Benz, discussed investments OEMs are making in clean diesel options. Advancements are being made in diesel technology, Freitag said, including thermodynamic optimization, turbochargers, idle reduction, and stop-start systems. As for biodiesel, OEMs are supportive of the alternative fuel but need to feel confident in the quality of the fuel before they embrace it, McGarry and Craven said.

ACT Expo 2014 hosted a ride and drive on Wednesday afternoon last week. Vehicles included an EVI medium-duty electric truck and a VIA Motors eRev extended range van; a propane-powered Ford E-Series van; fuel cell vehicles such as the Mercedes F-Cell and Honda FCX Clarity; natural gas vehicles such as the Honda Civic Natural Gas and Volvo VNL CNG tractor; and two clean diesel vehicles – the Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel and Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee with EcoDiesel.

Penske working with customers on hitting sustainability targets in EPA SmartWay and through state programs

Penske CNGPenske led a panel discussion last week at ACT Expo 2014 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay Transport Partnership. Drew Cullen, Penske vice president of fuels and environmental affairs, moderated the panel that included EPA SmartWay’s Tracie Jackson-Hall and Joe Ringhoffer, director global sourcing at Penske Logistics.

In April, Penske Truck Leasing repeated its win as one of 10 companies named in the EPA SmartWay Affiliate Challenge Award; Penske was also cited for its strong marketing efforts. The EPA acknowledged Penkse for doing an exceptional job in promoting the partnership’s freight sustainability goals. Penske Truck Leasing has been assisting its customers in implementing SmartWay objectives including establishing fuel economy and emissions benchmarking; and has been educating customers on implementing SmartWay strategies into their own operations. “It is in our company DNA to not only be good environmental stewards ourselves, but to also aid customers in identifying, quantifying and implementing sustainable transportation solutions,” Cullen said.

Last October, Penske Logistics was a recipient of the 2013 SmartWay Excellence Award for being an industry leader in freight supply chain performance energy and efficiency. Penske earned this award in part for reducing its annual carbon dioxide emissions by 25%, nitrous oxide emissions by 40%, and particulate matter emissions by over 50%.

Penske works with customers using the SmartWay tools to improve environmental performance and quantify emissions calculations. Onboard technologies and alternative fuels are explored to improve fuel economy and improve the fleet’s efficiency. One of the workshop panelists, Chip Dorger, general manager at Letica Resources, explained how integrating the SmartWay program has meant less miles traveled, less fuel used, and CO2 reduction in total tons transported per year. Along with C02 reductions, SmartWay tools assist fleets in reducing NOx and particulate matter.

Offering customers compressed natural gas Freightliner Cascadia semi-tractors has been part of Penske’s sustainability initiatives, Cullen said. Penske Truck Rental has 85 compressed natural gas (CNG) Freightliner Cascadia semi-tractors available for commercial rental use in select markets. Penske works with customers to explore the environmental and economic benefits of going with CNG-powered trucks. There are challenges of going with these trucks – CNG trucks have less range than diesel-powered trucks and the tanks do take extra space; Penske works with customers to see when it makes sense to go with CNG. There is the potential to break even or to save two-to-three cents per mile; there’s been a lot of interest in these alternative fuel vehicles by food service, linen, and dry cleaning fleets, Cullen said.

During ACT Expo, Penske Truck Leasing also announced that it has been awarded grants totaling $525,000 through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC) in Diamond Bar, Calif. Seven Penske facilities in Southern California have been awarded $75,000 grants to modify the facilities to provide maintenance services on trucks with natural gas-powered engines. “These facility retrofits will enable us to better serve our truck and fleet customers in the region and support their sustainability goals now and in the future,” said Jennifer Sockel, senior vice president of administration and facilities for Penske Truck Leasing.

These California grants are assisting Penske in working with customers on reaching their sustainability goals, Sockel said. CNG retrofits can become expensive; Penske works with customers on implementing options such as aggregate use and consolidating facilities, or trial use with a small percentage of the fleet. Staff training is also offered by Penske for maintenance of these engines, and for working safely on the vehicles. Working on CNG trucks is quite different than the diesel trucks they’re used to servicing, so training is needed by maintenance staff.

Penske has also received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the purchase of 23 CNG vehicles. The Natural Gas Vehicle Program in Penske’s home state of Pennsylvania is helping to support development of a new CNG fueling infrastructure, Cullen said. Penske is working with customers on exploring options in CNG trucks and fueling, such as analyzing dynamic roadway routes. Pennsylvania is encouraging fleets to deploy CNG trucks in counties with poor air quality. Customers are now looking at when it makes sense to go with CNG, Cullen said.