Explaining 6 Alternative Fuels for Commercial Vehicle Owners

Becky Neems
By Becky Neems
Nov 10 / 1073 Views

Alternative fuel is a hot-button topic for towers, fleet managers, and small business owners alike. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the six major types of green fuel include Biodiesel, Electricity, Ethanol, Hydrogen, Natural Gas, and Propane.

Whatever you pick depends on the circumstances of your business. Most green fuels include tax incentives and fuel-efficiency. Saving the planet and your wallet sounds like a win-win on both fronts, but how does choosing green apply to your towing, fleet, or commercial trucking business? Let’s find out how you can utilize each of the six alternative fuels and determine if you should make the switch from conventional petroleum gas.

Natural Gas alternative fuel

Biodiesel

Made from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease, biodiesel is, as you can guess, the greener version of regular diesel.  It reduces emissions and can be used in most commercial vehicles without changing the engine. Check your engine warranty to make sure your vehicle is combatable with the blend you choose.

  • Reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 75% over petroleum diesel
  • 236 biodiesel stations available in the US
  •  Can be used by all diesel vehicles
  • Equipment examples*:
    • Bucket Truck: 2011 Chevrolet C4500
    • Cab Chassis: GMC Sierra 3500, Ram 3500
    • Pickup Truck: Ford Super Duty F-250, GMX Sierra 2500/3500
    • Van: Ford Transit 150, GMC Savana 2500

Electricity

There are three kinds of electric vehicles: hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles. Each has its own set of fuel efficiencies and uses a varying degree of electricity. All-electric vehicles have zero emissions while both hybrids have the option to charge using regenerative braking.

  • Hybrids (HEVs): internal combustion engine powered by gas and a motor powered by electricity
  • Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs): combustion engine and electric motor, but can be driven on just electricity
  • All-electric: have motors solely run on electricity
  • 10,986 electric stations around the U.S.
  • Equipment examples:
    • Trailer: Balqon Mule M100
    • Commercial Truck: Electric Vehicles International EVI-MD
    • Pickup Truck: GGT Electric Scout 4 Door
    • Tractor: Balqon XE-20
    • Utility: ZeroTruck
See the graph below to see how much electricity has grown and the trend of all other green fuels:

Ethanol

Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) use an ethanol-gasoline cocktail. Made from corn and other plants, the mixture depends on the geography and season. FFVs can also just use regular gas, hence the flexibility.

  • Helps eliminate greenhouse gas emissions
  • The two blends consist of the lower E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) and the higher E85 (51% to 83% ethanol)
  • 2,678 ethanol stations around the U.S.
  • Equipment examples:
    • Pickup truck: Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado 3500
    • Cab Chassis: Ford Super Duty F350, Ford E-350/450 Cutaway
    • Van: Ford Transit 250/350, Chevrolet Express 2500
    • Utility Truck: Ford E-350SD

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is one of the renewable resources still in the development process. It’s difficult to extract the energy from elements like water (H2O) and methane (CH4) and comes with a hefty price tag. It will be interesting to see what comes with this technology. For cool examples of Fuel Cell (Hydrogen) car prototypes check out the Toyota Mirai or the VW Passat HyMotion fuel cell.

  • Hydrogen can be extracted via combining steam with natural gas, water through electrolysis, wind or solar power
  • Most of the hydrogen extracted in the U.S. is used for other tasks like processing foods, refining petroleum, and treating metals
  • Fuel cell (Hydrogen) vehicles are starting to enter the market
  • A company just created hydrogen fuel cells for medium duty trucks
  • 12 hydrogen stations available in the U.S.
  • Equipment examples:
    • Commercial Truck: Vision Motor Corp. Tyrano
    • Tractor: Vision Motor Corp. ZETT Zero Emission Terminal Tractor
    • Consumer Prototypes: Toyota Mirai, VW Passat HyMotion

Biodiesel

Natural Gas

Made of methane (CH4) and other hydrocarbons, natural gas makes up a quarter of the energy used in the U.S., including heating and cooking, industrial uses, and, of course, for vehicles. Natural gas comes in two forms, compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is typically used in medium and heavy-duty vehicles because more energy can be stored per tank.

  • Clean-burning and lowers emissions
  • Wears down the engine slower and less flammable than petroleum gas
  • 867 CNG stations around the U.S.
  • Equipment Examples
    • Van: Chevrolet Express 2500/3500, GMC Savana 2500/3500
    • Cab Chassis: Chevrolet Express 3500, Ford E-350/450
    • Pickup truck: Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500, Ford Super Duty F-250/350
    • Commercial truck: Freightliner 114SD, Freightliner Business class M2 112, Heil Environmental Roll-Off Hoist

Propane

Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane has been used for decades to fuel light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Although these vehicles come at a higher cost, propane gas is cheaper and can help break even on cost for commercial vehicle owners and managers.

  • Domestic and cheaper fuel source
  • Gasoline and diesel vehicles can be converted for propane use
  • Becoming more and more available
  • 1,524 propane stations across the U.S.
  • Equipment examples
    • Cab Chassis: Chevrolet Express 3500/4500, Ford E-350/450
    • Van: Ford E150/250/350, GMC Savana, Cutaway 4500
    • Pickup Truck: Ford Super Duty F-250/350, Ford F-150
    • Work Truck: Ford Super Duty F-650/750
    • Commercial Truck: Greenkraft 1061

Incentives, Incentives, Incentives

Incentives are available for all alternative fuel types, whether statewide or nationwide. These are important for commercial vehicle owners and managers because fuel expenses will be cheaper in the long run, you get a faster ROI than burning money with petroleum, and green fuels and vehicles are becoming more widespread every day. Here are some federal incentives to consider.

  • Low and Zero Emission Vehicle Research, Demonstration, and Deployment Funding: Fund 80% of projects for vehicles designated for public transportation use that significantly reduce energy consumption or harmful emissions
  • Improved Energy Technology Loans: May issue loans for up to 100% of the cost
  • Advanced Energy Research Project Grants: The ARPA-E includes giving grants to vehicle projects
  • Bio-Based Transportation Research Funding: Funds activities promoting advances in transportation infrastructure, services, and operations, including 100% funding of the National Cooperative Freight Transportation Research Program
  • Qualified Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit: Get tax credit of up to $7,500 based on requirements of vehicle
  • Ethanol Infrastructure Grants and Loan Guarantees: Applies to agricultural producers and small businesses in rural areas for grants up to $20,000

Learn more at http://www.afdc.energy.gov/laws/fed_summary.

Now what?

There are pros and cons to choosing green for businesses that rely on commercial vehicles. Weigh your options. Who knows? You may have an alternatively fueled fleet in no time. Hop on over to the Alternative Fuels Data Center for more information including fueling stations, laws and incentives that apply to your state, types of vehicles that are supported and more.

What’s your opinion about alternative fuels and legislation incentives? Leave it in the comments below.

*Note: The vehicle examples do not include all types available for each alternative fuel type. Including Sedans, SUVS, School Buses, Police Vehicles, Passenger Buses, Dump Trucks, etc.

  •  alternative fuel 
  •  biodiesel 
  •  business owner 
  •  commerical truck 
  •  electricity 
  •  ethanol 
  •  fleet 
  •  fleet manager 
  •  green fuel 
  •  hydrogen 
  •  medium-duty truck 
  •  natural gas 
  •  propane 

1 Comment

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-2944">
    Nash Rich
    1 April 2016 at 15:49

    I’ve heard plenty of ethanol and electric cars, but not much about biodeisel and I didn’t even know hydrogen was used. I think it’s interesting that there are already 12 stations in the U.S. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a new concept, I think that’s a pretty good start. Thanks for the info!