Fuel for thought, considering the alternatives

By July 11, 2019 Electric Vehicles, News

Changing fuel type is one of the most obvious avenues of investigation for any fleet organisation. The lower costs and greater distance per litre offered by some fuels compared with petrol presents, on face value, a compelling case for change.

However, as with all things there are advantages and disadvantages.  Higher vehicle procurement costs and lower resale values need to be factored into any evaluation before any decision should be made to switch to alternative fuels.

Alternate fuels fall into a number of groups each with its own characteristics. The most common alternative fuels currently considered suitable for commercial application are as follows:

1. Electric Vehicles

As a result of increasing concern about air pollution, there has been a resurgence of interest in Electric Vehicles (EV’s). In the course of any comparison between conventional Internal Combustion technology and EV’s, it is essential to judge emissions that are produced in the entire energy chain.

The range of electric vehicles continues to grow year on year with manufacturers such as Hyundai, Renault, KIA, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Audi and Tesla infiltrating the market in a big way in 2019.

2. Hydrogen Fuels

While at the present time few vehicles are operating on hydrogen (with the noticeable except of the Toyota Mirai), the potential for this unique energy source is outstanding because the primary product from the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen is water.  It is viewed as the ultimate clean fuel. A major disadvantage with hydrogen is its low energy density, requiring large bulky fuel tanks for storage.

In addition to internal combustion engines, hydrogen can also be used in fuel cells.  Considered as one of the most promising alternative transportation fuels, a fuel cell converts hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air into electricity.

3. Hybrid Vehicles

Hybrid vehicles are also now attracting significant interest and vehicles like the Toyota Camry and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are proven leaders in this market. These electric vehicles use a small internal combustion engine/generator configuration as a range extender.

Seen by some as stopgap technology, until the practical development of hydrogen or EV-powered vehicles, there is usually a price penalty associated with the purchase cost and a somewhat unknown element on the residual value.

4. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Already a relatively mature technology its make-up ranges from predominantly propane to a 40/60 mix of propane and butane. Fully factory warranted LPG vehicles are now available from Holden, Ford, Mazda, ISUZU and Volvo among other manufacturers.

Caution needs to be exercised should retro-fitting be considered. Contact should be made with the original vehicle supplier to confirm that the vehicle is suited to LPG running.  It is essential that qualified personnel must do any installation of equipment and engine management modifications. Not adhering to these two important issues could result in a very unpleasant outcome.

5. Natural Gas (CNG AND LNG)

Natural Gas attracts significant interest. Predominantly methane, it can be either compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG).  As CNG it has been used extensively in Italy and New Zealand and is beginning to enter the Australian transport fuel market, where its main application has been fleets of heavy vehicles operating from central locations in urban areas.

6. Alcohol Fuels

Alcohol fuels can be made from sources other than imported crude oil. Traditionally alcohol fuels have suffered from cold-start problems. This issue has now been substantially addressed and the use of alcohol fuels is technically viable.

The final word

Once the organisation has satisfied itself that an alternative fuel is a viable option for your operations and the decision is made to go for an alternative fuel, there should be an active Contingency and Scenario Planning regime in place to ensure the proposed change continues to be an advantage.

The organisation should conduct “what if” scenario’s to ensure it understands the consequences of any change that might occur and what contingency plans the organisation should have if the picture changes?

The Australasian Fleet Management Association has a variety of tools and resources available to assist members with their fleet operation including our new Whole of Life Cost Calculator. For more information about how to gain access to these resources, head to our Membership page.