Looking back at 2013, it has been an exciting year for the alternative fuel vehicle industry. The year began with renewable patent activity reaching an all-time high. Interest in cleaner transportation choices continued to grow throughout 2013. One study even showed that drivers are willing to pay more for vehicles with reduced carbon emissions. This increased interest paid off with greater usage of alternative fuel vehicles as public fleets embraced alternative fuels; an increasing number of alternative fuel vehicle options as manufacturers made plans to expand their alternative fuel products; and according to at least one report, more jobs in clean energy.
Electric Drive Vehicles
Electric vehicle drivers received a great deal of encouraging news this year.
A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that hybrid vehicles were found to be potentially safer than conventional vehicles.
Charging stations became more accessible as more local governments and retailers added them to their parking structures. ECOtality announced plans to install electric charging stations at several Kroger grocery stores. Workplace Charging enlisted fifteen additional companies and the City of Sacramento as partners, increasing their reach. A New York based company developed wireless EV chargers that blend into an urban environment by resembling manhole covers.
Vehicle manufacturers also increased, or made plans to increase, the availability of electric vehicles to consumers. For example, Volvo nearly doubled production of the V60 plug-in hybrid. Also, BMW announced plans to electrify all of its models and the Honda Fit EV arrived in select markets.
As the benefits of EVs became more apparent, large companies and government fleets also became increasingly interested in adopting them. The General Services Administration announced plans to expand hybrid use in its federal fleet by up to 10,000 vehicles and FedEx Express debuted an all-electric fleet in Hong Kong.
Natural Gas and Autogas (propane)
With a renewed interest across the country this year in natural gas and propane, several vehicle manufacturers expanded their range of natural gas and Autogas options and significantly enhanced the number of gaseous fuel vehicles on roads. Chevrolet announced a natural gas option for the 2015 Impala. Both Ford and General Motors announced that several CNG and Autogas vehicles would be released in the coming years.
In addition to a number of other states, West Virginia had significant natural gas and Autogas activity in 2013. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin created the Governor’s Natural Gas Task Force, charged with assessing the feasibility of transitioning the state’s vehicle fleet to natural gas as a fuel source. The transition team commissioned a study into the natural gas fleet opportunities in the state. Following the positive results of that study a Natural Gas Transition Team was developed. The first CNG fueling stations as part of this project were opened in West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Highways received their first delivery of converted vehicles. Finally, the first natural gas trainings were conducted for operators.
Other states, companies and organizations also saw the potential of gaseous fuels. Shell and TravelCenters of America partnered to develop a nation-wide LNG fueling network. The Propane Road Tour commemorated the largest ever propane Autogas school bus purchase 434 buses to be used by the Omaha Public School System.
Biodiesel and Ethanol
Research into sustainable biofuels continued in 2013. The U.S. DOE invested in multiple projects, including:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in May that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $14 million in funding for advanced biofuel projects, which are to be divided among 162 biofuel producers across the nation. Biofuel producers receiving funds from the USDA this year are spread across 38 states, from California to Maine, Wisconsin to Texas.
This February, General Motors unveiled its 2014 Chevy Cruze, a diesel-powered compact sedan that is also capable of running on 20 percent biodiesel blends, at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
Governmental agencies and automotive manufacturers increasingly supported hydrogen vehicle research and development throughout 2013. In February, the DOE announced a renewed focus on hydrogen research, and in September, launched the National Fuel Cell Technology Evaluation Center. As a result of this focus, new materials and manners of creating hydrogen fuel and fuel cells are being studied, such as a device that uses sewage and sunlight and a method involving a jelly-making protein.
As the increase in research into hydrogen and fuel cells continues, several manufacturers believe that there will be a hydrogen breakthrough by the end of the decade. Manufacturers are joining together to make this breakthrough happen. Both General Motors and Honda well as Daimler, Ford, and Nissan formed partnerships to create new fuel cell systems.
The past year has been one of great progress in the alternative fuel industry. We look forward to the coming year with optimism. NAFTC Acting Director Bill Davis explains, “with all of the activity in the alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle industry, the future holds great promise for not only the NAFTC (all of these vehicles will add to the training mission), but will aid in decreasing the dependence on petroleum and continue to clean the air we breathe.”