The “Holy Grail” of renewable transportation has long been an efficient, powerful vehicle that runs on limitless, non-polluting fuel. Hydrogen fuel has been held out as a means to achieve this, but for the time-being, it remains highly impractical. While electricity can be made clean end-to-end by producing it from solar or wind power, getting it to work satisfactorily with the way we drive our vehicles has proven elusive. Electric automobiles have always involved some type of major compromise of range, performance and price.
But the advent of advanced lithium ion batteries, along with increasingly unstable oil prices, is changing that. A number of companies now produce all-electric vehicles -- that is, there is no complementary internal combustion engine. What’s more, they are intended as full-on, daily driven vehicles, as opposed to the souped-up golf carts that have been the face of electrics in the past. In the consumer marketplace, the Nissan Leaf is one of the most-recognized all-electric cars -- major brands are stepping in after witnessing the popularity of niche manufacturers such as Tesla Motors.
While all-electric drive is still a tough case to make for long-haul heavy freight, electric power is used widely in cities for passenger buses, garbage trucks and commercial deliveries. These are all applications that involve lots of stops and starts -- a mode where internal combustion engines are least efficient and electric drive excels (the electric motor is engaged only when the vehicle is moving).
Electric vehicles still have comparatively short ranges compared to their petroleum-powered counterparts -- it’s typically between 30 and 100 miles (48.3 to 160.9 kilometers) before the batteries need to be recharged.
Ultimately the smartest and most environmentally sensible fuel choice will boil down to matching the fuel and the vehicle to the job they’re intended to perform. In a few cases, regular gasoline or diesel, coupled with sensible routing, driving and maintenance strategies, will be the superior choice -- for instance, long-distance driving where alternative fuel replenishing sources are questionable. And many times, a less-polluting, yet equally or more practical alternative will be available.
Operating a fleet comes with a great deal of responsibility --both to your organization and to the people it serves. The fuels that a fleet uses can affect the prices paid by customers, influence strategic business decisions and have a measurable effect on the health and well-being of communities. It also represents a huge opportunity to build goodwill, to save money and to demonstrate good stewardship of our environment.