Easier Being Green

What one fleet is doing to prepare for hybrid technology.


"The best part about hybrid technology is that it is an incremental step forward in solidly based existing science. If you have been on a cruise ship, you know that the propellers are turned by a big electric motor whose power is generated by a diesel power plant--the ultimate hybrid. We have known for years that locomotives are run the same way," says Survant.

The urgency to replace vehicles now is because "Most large fleets, who are huge users of fuel, only replace a relatively small portion of their equipment annually. So, in 2007, Survant says, when I start to buy the new generation engine, which of course I can use in front of my hybrid drivetrain, I will only have about 10 percent of my existing fleet replaced in a given year.

"It will be three years, or 2010, before I will get a meaningful number of these units in service. This means that we are looking at five years from now before I will get any real noticeable change in my fleet exhaust profile -- that's a long time to wait before we see a change. If we wait for fuel cells, how much more time will we burn up in anticipation," Survant says.

"Always the problems we have had with alternative fuel vehicles, they have been a trade off between payload and range." Survant says referring to Ford Crown Victorias bought in California to convert to compressed natural gas (CNG).

"We had to give up pay load to get enough range to be useful for the drivers. We not only had to put a CNG tank under the vehicle, but also in the trunk. So, ordinarily a large car with a generous trunk shrunk to what would comfortably fit a set of golf clubs. This meant shorter range, but with an excellent payload. That means more fill ups and more infrastructure necessary.

"One of the things we like with the hybrid technology over a traditional all electric approach is that the truck can be refueled anywhere. The infrastructure to support the truck is offered all over the country and we can continue to push payload from the Florida keys to Alaska without waiting for an infrastructure that isn't available today," Survant says.

"Generally speaking, the hybrid drivetrain could be made into a fuel cell with just the same ease of effort that we made an internal combustion engine with the hybrid drivetrain," Survant says. "So, the hybrid technology has the promise to evolve with us as our engine technology evolves. In addition to having multiple advantages, hybrid technology has potential to evolve with the engines and drivetrains and with sources of fuel.

"If you really had a passion to put a Cummins Westport diesel in front of this hybrid package, I suppose that this would be just as viable as a standard off the shelf diesel package--just more expensive," he says.

AIR OF EXCITEMENT

"We really feel like the technology is an integral part of being able to serve our customers here in Florida because the working trucks that restore the power are the heart of our business," Survant says.

"One of the problems with other alternative fuel choices in the past has been that they have been one-dimensional choices in the fact that I could get one engine designed by one manufacturer or worse case, two engines from one manufacturer, and I was locked into a very specific drivetrain and drivetrain assembly and infrastructure.

"Our whole effort with these hybrids revolves around three very simple concepts. This is an adaptation of well developed technology, it is something we can do to make a real change right now, and it allows us to address several dimensions of a broader problem all at once--it makes for a compelling story," he says.

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