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All you need to know about alternative fuels

As governments around the world, including Britain and France, announce an intention to end sales of petrol and diesel-engine cars, we look at the options available to fleet users.

Electricity

What is it?
Electricity distributed to a vehicle via chargepoints at domestic, workplace or other locations.

How does it work?
An array of batteries in the car is charged with electricity at an EV charging station. These then power an electric motor (sometimes two, or even four – one in each wheel) that drives the wheels, noiselessly and without creating any tailpipe emissions.

How can fleets use it?
Electric vehicles (EVs) will play an increasingly important role in fleet use in the years leading up to 2040. Because of limited battery range, they will initially be used for shorter journeys, especially in and around urban areas. Workplace chargepoints will facilitate their use in this phase. EVs are largely focused on cars and light vans, although electric trucks are currently in development.

What are the barriers to acceptance?

Range anxiety (concerns over running out of charge) is a major barrier currently, as is the price of EVs. However, increased take-up will drive cheaper and more powerful batteries making EVs a lot more attractive for fleets.

Hybrid

What is it?

Vehicles that use a conventional petrol or diesel engine in conjunction with an electric motor to enable them to spend some of their driving time using electric mobility.

How does it work?

The electric motor (when charged) can be used for low-speed driving to ensure that the petrol or diesel engine is reserved for more economical highway driving. Hybrids are particularly useful in towns, where air quality concerns are also at their highest, and which is likely to result in additional tolls in future years.

How can fleets use it?

There are different types of hybrids, some of which don’t require charging (e.g. series hybrids such as the Toyota Prius) and others, known as plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), that require the batteries to be charged to utilise the electric motor. Both can save fleets money – especially if vehicles are used extensively for urban driving. Whichever option is taken by fleets, hybrid vehicles can lead to lower fuel and running (including maintenance) costs.

What are the barriers to acceptance?

PHEVs are currently more expensive than cars with conventional petrol or diesel engines, so leasing costs are likely to be higher (this could be offset by total cost of ownership, though). The shortcomings of the electric charging infrastructure could also make charging electric motors harder, which then makes having a PHEV pointless.

Hydrogen

What is it?

Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells are seen by some carmakers as the next major powertrain development.

How does it work?

Compressed hydrogen is passed through fuel cells in the vehicle to create a chemical reaction with oxygen that produces electricity to power the car (and tailpipe emissions of water).

How can fleets use it?

The Toyota Mirai and Hyundai ix35 are the only commercially available models currently on sale. Businesses can sign up to the hydrogen revolution now by adding them to their fleet mix.

What are the barriers to acceptance?

The major challenge is the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at the moment. The number of stations is severely limited, but fleets located close to one could take advantage of this technology.

CNG

What is it?

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is methane that is compressed to less than 1% of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure.

How does it work?

Vehicles are converted to use CNG either instead of petrol and diesel, or alongside them (known as biofuel). The engine functions in exactly the same way as a conventional engine.

How can fleets use it?

CNG is well established in a number of markets, so fleets should be able to take advantage of its benefits, including reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

What are the barriers to acceptance?

The availability of CNG varies from country to country, plus there’s an additional cost for converting vehicles (although this has fallen in recent years).

LPG

What is it?

LPG (which is also known as Autogas), a mix of propane and butane, is extracted alongside natural gas and is a by-product of oil refining.

How does it work?

As with CNG, LPG requires vehicles to be converted and can be used on its own or, more usually, alongside conventional petrol or diesel powertrains.

How can fleets use it?
LPG is available in a number of markets and enables fleets to reduce fuel costs and taxation burdens.

What are the barriers to acceptance?
The availability of LPG and the cost of conversion are again the major barriers to uptake.

Biofuel

What is it?
As the name suggests, biofuel is fuel that is created through biological processes, often mixed with petrol or diesel.

How does it work?
Biofuels work in internal combustion engines in the same way as petrol or diesel.

How can fleets use it?
Products such as ethanol or biodiesel can be used in conventional engines with minimal changes, but fleet managers need to check warranties and set guidelines for staff about which blends of biofuel can be used.

What are the barriers to acceptance?
There are a number of different types of biofuel, with some more popular than others in different countries, so the availability of the most suitable form could be limited. In addition, some biofuels require more vehicle adaptations, the cost of which could offset any benefits from using them.

 

 

 

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