Formula E team up with UN Environment in race to improve inner-city air quality

Formula E, the world’s first fully-electric single-seater racing series, has joined forces with UN Environment to launch a global partnership in the fight to improve inner-city air quality – continuing to boost the profile of alternative energy solutions and the increased uptake of electric vehicles.

The multi-year partnership will focus on raising awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles among younger generations and motorsport fans globally – educating future consumers of electric cars, and challenging major cities and governments to take action to tackle pollution.

The new partnership will leverage the popularity of the FIA Formula E Championship, who bring electrifying motorsport to some of the world’s leading cities, including Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Buenos Aires, Paris, New York and Montreal.

Racing has always been a laboratory for the development of technology in the motor industry, previously with combustion-engine cars and now with electric vehicles. Formula E wants to play a role in providing a solution – to help more people buy and drive electric cars.

“Formula E puts a fresh spotlight on electric vehicles and is an exciting glimpse of what is to come – the age of clean, viable transport,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “Formula E and UN Environment share the aim to usher in this era and speed up acceptance of these technologies to combat air pollution. Air pollution has taken centre-stage this year as a serious public health threat, and with good reason.”

The 40 fully-electric Formula E cars are powered by generators using zero-emissions glycerine. The generators are based on standard production diesel engines that have been adapted with Aquafuel’s patented technology to run on glycerine. The fuel itself is a by-product of the bio-diesel production process, and it’s so clean you can drink it.

“Formula E puts a fresh spotlight on electric vehicles and is an exciting glimpse of what is to come –  the age of clean, viable transport,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “Formula E and UN Environment share the aim to usher in this era and speed up acceptance of these technologies to combat air pollution. Air pollution has taken centre-stage this year as a serious public health threat, and with good reason.”

Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of Formula E, said: “We face big challenges ahead of us – climate change, inner-city pollution and producing energy in a sustainable way all around the world. That’s why we’ve teamed up with UN Environment to help continue the education process. Formula E and the FIA aim to make the switch to electric cars make sense for consumers – more efficient and more affordable.”

Jean Todt, FIA President, said: “We welcome the partnership between UN Environment and the FIA Formula E Championship and I look forward to see this relationship growing. When we created Formula E, one of our main goals was to raise awareness of issues of environmental sustainability and drive the development of technology which will be beneficial to our future and that of our planet. As we go racing with fully-electric vehicles in some of the greatest cities around the world we are spreading this message, and this collaboration with UN Environment will help us to reach
even more people.”

Formula E currently works in collaboration with Enel – Official Power Partner of the FIA Formula E Championship – to promote the advancement of the championship’s power technology infrastructure, through optimising clean energy generation, distribution and management, and showcasing advanced energy solutions. Enel is designing a fully-digitised energy mini-grid for Formula E, using the company’s smart metering technology to monitor power usage and give fans the chance to interact with an advanced energy system in real time.

The 40 fully-electric Formula E cars are charged by generators using zero-emissions glycerine. The generators use Aquafuel’s patented technology to run on glycerine. The fuel itself is a by-product of the bio-diesel production process, and it’s so clean you can drink it.

The World Health Organization estimates that 6.5 million people die prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases, and 80 per cent of urban residents worldwide breathe polluted air –  with a whole host of detrimental short and long-term health effects. Transport contributes one-quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions today.

UN Environment sees electric transportation as one of the essential components of achieving more sustainable and cleaner cities. Its Electric Mobility Programme works in 50 developing and transitioning countries to support their move from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. UN Environment is a founding partner of the Breathe Life campaign, the UN’s biggest-ever campaign on air quality, which aims to raise awareness of global and local impacts of air pollution and the broad range of viable solutions for cities and governments to improve air quality.

About the FIA Formula E Championship:
The FIA Formula E Championship is the world’s first fully-electric single-seater racing series, competing on the streets against the backdrop of some of the most iconic cities – including Hong Kong, Marrakesh, Buenos Aires, Monaco, Paris, New York and Montreal. The championship represents a vision for the future of the motor industry, serving as a platform to showcase the latest innovations in electric vehicle technology and alternative energy solutions. Future seasons will see the regulations open up further allowing manufacturers to focus on the development of motor and battery components, which in turn will filter down to everyday contemporary electric road vehicles.

The 2016/17 FIA Formula E Championship sees 10 teams and 20 drivers go wheel-to-wheel in nine cities spanning five continents in the fight to be crowned Formula E champion. The inaugural season of Formula E sparked into life in September 2014 around the grounds of the Olympic Park in Beijing. The third season of the electric street racing series started on October 9 in Hong Kong, with the season finale double-header taking place in Montreal on July 29 & 30.

About FIA & Michelin – Today’s partners for tomorrow’s mobility:
As well as being the official Formula E tyre supplier, Michelin is an official partner, at the international level, of the FIA Action for Road Safety campaign. The programme is designed to support the Decade of Action for Road Safety initiated by the UN, the aim of which is to save five million lives over the next 10 years. This programme is set-up to educate and advocate for safer roads, vehicles and behaviours around the globe.

UK Breaks Solar Record; Generates 24 Percent of Power from Solar

On Friday, May 26, on what was expected to be one of the hottest days of the year, solar panels in the UK generated a record amount of power, enough to meet almost 25 percent of demand. This is according to data compiled by National Grid Plc and Sheffield University.

At noon London-time, 8.75 GW of power was being generated by the solar PV, breaking a previous record of 8.49 GW, overtaking nuclear power in the country.

The CEO of the UK Solar Trade Association (STA), Paul Barwell, said in a statement that the organization was “delighted that at around midday today 8.75 GW was generated by solar, supplying nearly 25 percent of the UK’s total demand.” He added: “This is the first time that solar has generated more than nuclear, second only to gas.”

According to the STA there are 12.1 GW of solar capacity installed throughout the UK.

“This is a colossal achievement in just 5 years, and sends a very positive message to the UK that solar has a strong place in the decarbonisation of the UK energy sector.”


Building it Better: How Wind EPCs Are Driving Down Wind Energy Cost

While the all-in cost to build a wind farm has fallen dramatically over the years, due in part to larger and more powerful turbines that can harness more wind energy for less money, the cost of building the projects themselves has also fallen but still has a ways to go.

“Driving out waste in our industry is always at the forefront of our minds,” said Tim Maag, the Vice President and general manager of wind for Mortenson Construction, one of the top wind EPCs in the United States. Maag acknowledges that collectively the wind industry has made a lot of progress in bringing down costs but said that type of work is never done.

“Driving out waste is something that you never stop working on.”

First Standardize, Then Improve

Maag said that early on Mortenson developed standard work instructions for all of the work it does building a wind farm but that is only the first step. Once the standard is in place, Mortenson challenges all of its workers to improve it and offers them incentives like gift cards or jackets as rewards for good ideas.

“We know if we engage the craft workers, the people doing the work, the people that are closest to it, and challenge them to come up with a better way of doing it, that the sky is the limit,” he said.

For example, Maag said that sometimes making a tweak to a process might mean that a crew of five can now do the work with only four people and the fifth team member can be assigned to a different task. A tweak could be in the form of the way a certain tool is used in the build process or a more efficient sequence for getting the work done, said Maag.

One innovation that Mortenson is in the process of creating is the ability to use an algorithm to define the best energy output with the least cost of construction. The company is working with Stanford University to perfect the system, which looks at the placement of turbines, the output they will generate and then factors in construction costs. The algorithm might show that moving a turbine a bit further a bit to the left or a bit to the right could reduce the cost of construction significantly but keep the wind resource the same.

“So the algorithm will go in and automatically relocate the turbines looking for the best energy output and the least cost of construction to get them put there,” he said.

Software for Operation Efficiencies

In addition to algorithms like the one that Mortenson is using in partnership with Stanford, Maag said the company uses 3D design software for all of its builds and that it can layer the schedule on top of the design (the forth dimension) to give workers an understanding of where the project needs to be at any point in the future.

“So using virtual design has been pretty cool,” said Maag, adding, “of course that helps us sequence the work and look for the most efficient way of building the project.”

Vestas, one the largest turbine manufacturers in the world (but not an EPC), also recently announced that it uses operational efficiency software from SirionLabs to help drive costs out of its organization on the IT level. Sirion’s enterprise software platform uses automation and advanced analytics to help buyers and suppliers create higher value and more successful relationships, while enabling effective management of cost and risk in complex services engagements, said the company.

Vestas adopted Sirion’s solution to give it better visibility and control over the performance of its IT suppliers. The platform helps to minimize financial losses and risk in contracts. SirionLabs said in a press release that in addition to the significant hard Euro savings achieved through Sirion’s comprehensive 3-way invoice validation, the ability to monitor supplier performance at a granular level helps give Vestas more control of its supplier engagements.

“We realized cost-savings equating to 300 percent return on investment in Sirion during the first year as it enabled us to identify discrepancies in our supplier invoices which would otherwise go unnoticed,” said Henrik Stefansen, Senior Director, Global IT Sourcing at Vestas in the release.

Innovating with Partners and on the Job

Ken Hilgert is Business Development Director for Blattner Energy, another major EPC provider for wind farms. He said in an email that Blattner looks for innovative solutions to reduce cost from its projects and finds those cost-saving opportunities by integrating early with its clients.

Indeed, working with clients and partners is another key to finding innovative ways to cuts costs and/or improve processes. Mortenson’s Maag gave an example of how logistics companies must be able to deliver taller cranes in order to accommodate the taller turbine towers that have larger nacelles.

“We have to work very closely with the crane companies to make sure that there are going to be machines big enough to get to those elevations,” he said.

Equipment company Ampelmann manufactures people and cargo transfer solutions for the offshore wind industry in Europe. Friso Talsma, Business Development Manager with the company explained that its fully motion compensated gangways exist to “make sure people can safely get to work on an oil and gas platform or an offshore wind platform.” Because they are motion-compensated, the gangways remain stable in harsh marine environments and are not affected by wind, waves or currents.

The company recently announced that its E1000 motion compensated access system, with a gangway that transforms into a crane boom, had performed more than 12,000 people transfers and 7,000 cargo transfers safely between an offshore support vessel and wind turbines over a ten-month period. That increase in operational man-hours on the maintenance program for the wind farm resulted in Ampelmann’s contract being extended by Siem Offshore Contractors.

Steven Vis, Operations Engineer at Ampelmann explained that the company was able to find a more productive solution on the job.

“During this project, we came up with a solution to further increase operational efficiencies. The manual pins were replaced by hydraulic pin pushers, which reduced the change-over time from people to cargo mode from ten to five minutes. The E1000 was then able to transfer both people and cargo within 20 minutes,” he said.

Even though a five-minute reduction in the time it takes to perform an activity doesn’t seem like a huge innovation, reducing the time involved in performing a complicated process by 50 percent no doubt adds up over time.

Thinking Big, Really Big

Talsma said that Ampelmann has now formed an internal team devoted to solving problems or creating more efficiencies within the wind industry.

“With that team we are developing innovations based on systems we already have or on new systems specially designed for the wind industry,” he said.

Mortenson has also formed several internal teams that are focused on innovation, said Maag. The “innovation challenge” asks teams of construction professionals to come up with “some of the boldest and the best ideas to tackle a problem within our industry,” he said.

There are seven teams working on the wind industry and each one will come up with three ideas. Those three ideas will then be narrowed down to one idea per team and each one will be presented to upper management at the end of 2017. Mortenson’s upper management will then choose which ideas to pursue for further development, potentially investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to advance them, Maag explained.

“It’s really amazing to see the creativity of our team members when you unleash them to think freely and to come up with ideas like that,” he said.

“I’m excited for the ideas I’m hearing about already.”

Does buying woodland instead of property make financial sense?

There is a frightful interval between the seed and the timber.” So said the 18th-century wit and writer Samuel Johnson, but wait patiently for your forest to flourish and you could see a significant return on your investment. Forestry has been the top-performing asset class in the UK over the past three years, with total returns of 14.7 percent, according to the market, beating returns on commercial property, homes, equities, and bonds. As investments go, though, is it a little unsexy? “It’s an asset you can enjoy.” People looking for shooting estates, for example, or may want to invest in one with a portion of commercial woodland. For Richard Davidson, investing in woodland is about the bottom line. He bought a 740-acre forest in Scotland in 2004. “At the time, the cost was the same as a two-bedroom flat in West London, so it didn’t feel like a huge expense,” he says. Thirteen years later, he owns forestry across southern Scotland and Aberdeenshire, all of which has been commercially planted with Sitka spruce, the species that dominates the forestry industry in the UK. Sitka spruce is a large, coniferous evergreen, originating from the US. It produces the most sought-after timber, because, as well as being a species that grows quickly and in poor soil — it reaches maturity in a relatively rapid 35 to 55 years — it has few branches, meaning few knots. Then there is Douglas fir, which was brought to the UK in 1827 by David Douglas, and Scots pine, the only native softwood. Scots pine can take more than 70 years to reach maturity but its distinctive shape and ability to attract wildlife make it an attractive choice for those who care about enjoyment as well as the commercial benefits of the forest.

Plantations in Argyll and Aberdeenshire, southern Scotland, upland areas of Wales and the north of England are considered prime, especially for spruce trees. The reason is not just the quality of the woodland but how near they are to sawmills. With sawmills in Aberdeen, Inverness and nearby Huntly, the lot is well located for getting timber to the point of sale. After two years commercial forests are entitled to 100 per cent business property relief, no capital gains, and relief from inheritance tax. Anyone looking to preserve capital that way may want to leave the trees in the ground. Excess profit from timber sales is essentially recreating taxable cash. Yet, with Brexit on the horizon, many forestry investors have a new spring in their step. The UK imports 80 per cent of the wood it consumes, according to Confor, the forestry trading association.

With sterling weakening, countries that were selling their timber to the UK are looking elsewhere. “Less imported supply has boosted domestic timber prices.” What is more, the Forestry Commission forecasts a 30 per cent decline in timber availability, mainly due to the budget of 1988, when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor, which effectively ended the tax incentives associated with planting. This has led to forestry aged 21 to 30 years increasing in value by about £800 an acre over the past two years. Also, reports renewed interest in land suitable for forests of spruce and Douglas fir. With most global prime property markets showing only meagre growth or decline, according to the market perhaps UK forestry is a more exciting prospect than first thought.

How forests help pension funds shelter from market storms

Dozens of mythologies and religions around the world consider trees sacred. Buddha, after achieving enlightenment, sat under a banyan tree for seven days. In the Garden of Eden, the two most important plants were the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Celtic mythology, trees were of vital importance to Druids, for whom the oak was one of the most sacred objects.

Nowadays, trees have largely lost their spiritual value, gaining a financial one instead. Apart from their long-established importance to several industries, trees and farmlands have emerged as an interesting way for institutional investors to tap uncorrelated returns.

The Sitka spruce grows quickly compared with other trees: a full-cycle takes 35-40 years. Its financial appeal is now so large that today one out of every two trees that grow in the UK are the Alaskan-native conifers. 200 years ago, there were none.

The good thing about timber is that it’s not like wheat or barley or any other agricultural crop, meaning you don’t have to harvest it at a certain time. The tree just continues to grow for up to 200 years. So if you don’t like the price today, and you’ve got enough cash to pay the bills, then you can leave the trees to grow for another year or two.

When you do come to harvest, there’s more timber there. Because the trees just get taller and broader every year.

Giant Dutch Offshore Wind Farm Delivers Clean Energy to 1.5 Million People

Giant Dutch Offshore Wind Farm Delivers Clean Energy to 1.5 Million People

Windmills have powered the Netherlands for hundreds of years and now the age-old technology will help power its future.

The country has officially opened its new 600-megawatt offshore wind park under schedule and under budget, according to its developer Gemini.

The wind farm will deliver 600 megawatts of renewable electricity to the Dutch grid and eventually generate enough power to meet the electricity needs of around 1.5 million people, or around 785,000 households.

The $3 billion project consists of 150 Siemens wind turbines spread across 26 square miles in the North Sea, about 53 miles off the country’s northern coast.

Gemini is the second largest offshore wind farm in the world, slightly smaller than the 630-megawatt London Array.

“Now fully operational, Gemini will produce 2.6 TWh of sustainable energy every year, reducing the Netherlands’ CO2 emissions by 1.25 million tonnes,” the company’s managing director Matthias Haag said. “We are proud to make this contribution to the realization of the Netherlands’ sustainability targets.”

Fossil fuels still make up about 95 percent of The Netherlands’ energy supply, but the Dutch government is looking to ramp up the nation’s share of renewable energy from 4 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2023, with the eventual aim of being carbon neutral by 2050.

The AFP reported that over the next 15 years, the wind park will be able to generate about 13 percent of the country’s total renewable energy supply, and about 25 percent of its wind power.

Gemini “is seen as a stepping stone” in The Netherlands, and has “shown that a very large project can be built on time, and in a very safe environment,” Haag said.

New research unlocks forests’ potential in climate change mitigation

For the first time, scientists have created a global map measuring the cooling effect forests generate by regulating the exchange of water and energy between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. In many locations, this cooling effect works in concert with forests’ absorption of carbon dioxide. By coupling information from satellites with local data from sensors mounted to research towers extending high above tree canopies, O’Halloran and his collaborators throughout the world have given a much more complete, diagnostic view of the roles forests play in regulating climate.

Their findings have important implications for how and where different types of land cover can be used to mitigate climate change with forest protection programs and data-driven land-use policies. Results of their study were recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“It’s our hope that such global maps can be used to optimize biophysics in addition to carbon when planning land-use climate change mitigation projects,” said O’Halloran, assistant professor of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science in Georgetown.

Previously, scientists measured vegetation’s impact on local land temperatures using satellite imagery, which is limited to only clear-sky days and few measurements per day, or they used local stations, which are limited in their reach. Integrating data from towers extending more than 100 feet in the air with satellite measurements allows for a more advanced view of the variables impacting surface temperature. The research team found that forests’ cooling effect was greater than thought and most pronounced in mid- and low-latitude regions.

This new statistical model of analyzing forests’ impact on local temperature will allow communities around the world to pinpoint ideal locations for forest protection or reforestation efforts.

“We wanted every country in the world to have some estimation of the cooling effects of forests and vegetation,” O’Halloran said. “It’s about optimizing the benefit of land management for climate change mitigation.”

A tower similar to those used for this study is under construction at Baruch in collaboration with the University of South Carolina to help provide greater analysis of local climate, he said.

“The towers will really help us understand how ecosystems respond to change,” O’Halloran said. “In South Carolina, we’ve had a lot of extreme weather events, droughts, flood and hurricanes. This will help us understand the resilience of local ecosystems to those types of events.”

O’Halloran co-authored the article in Nature Climate Change with lead author Ryan Bright of The Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research in Norway and several additional collaborators throughout Europe and the United States.

Unlike local climate changes owed to global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, local climate changes linked to land-related activities are unique in that they are only influenced by the local land-use policies that are in place, Bright said.

“The results of our study now make it easier for individual nations or regions to begin measuring and enforcing climate policies resulting in tangible mitigation or adaptation benefits at the local scale,” says Bright. “This is especially critical moving forward in a world facing increasing competition for land resources.”

UK Breaks Solar Record; Generates 24 Percent of Power from Solar

On Friday, May 26, on what was expected to be one of the hottest days of the year, solar panels in the UK generated a record amount of power, enough to meet almost 25 percent of demand. This is according to data compiled by National Grid Plc and Sheffield University.

At noon London-time, 8.75 GW of power was being generated by the solar PV, breaking a previous record of 8.49 GW, overtaking nuclear power in the country.

The CEO of the UK Solar Trade Association (STA), Paul Barwell, said in a statement that the organization was “delighted that at around midday today 8.75 GW was generated by solar, supplying nearly 25 percent of the UK’s total demand.” He added: “This is the first time that solar has generated more than nuclear, second only to gas.”

According to the STA there are 12.1 GW of solar capacity installed throughout the UK.

“This is a colossal achievement in just 5 years, and sends a very positive message to the UK that solar has a strong place in the decarbonisation of the UK energy sector.”

A Tiny Island Off Singapore May Hold Keys to Energy’s Future

On a small island off the southern coast of Singapore, a French energy company is experimenting with what it hopes will be the future of renewable power storage.

Engie SA is helping build a small, self-contained power grid on Semakau Island to demonstrate the usefulness of hydrogen gas in converting intermittent power from solar panels and wind turbines into stored fuel that can generate electricity days or even months later, when the need is higher.

Plummeting costs for solar and wind are helping renewable energy steal an ever-greater slice of the power generation pie from fossil fuels such as oil and coal. That makes it more and more vital to figure out how to spread out the brief but intense bursts of energy harnessed from the sun and wind to the more diffused needs of consumers. While battery storage has received most of the attention so far, hydrogen has “massive long-term potential,” said Didier Holleaux, executive vice president at Engie.

“Batteries are fine for intraday, or a few hours,” Holleaux said in an interview in Singapore. “But if you produce energy in summer and need it in winter, or need it to last during a few cloudy days, then hydrogen would be the obvious solution.”

To be a solution, though, hydrogen storage costs would have to come down dramatically. A hydrogen-based energy storage system costs about 10 times more than a diesel back-up generator with similar power output, according to a Toshiba Corp. presentation at the World Smart Energy Week in Tokyo in March.

Hydrogen storage is basically a three-step process: electricity powers a chemical process know as electrolysis that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then stored until it’s needed, and is then pumped through fuel cells to generate electricity.

The biggest hurdle to commercial viability is the electrolysis process, Holleaux said. Manufacturers are trying to make the water-splitting equipment cheaper and more efficient, but are probably 10 to 15 years away, Holleaux said.

Microgrid Target

“Electricity costs are a major component of the total expense for hydrogen production,” said I-Chun Hsiao, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Access to cheap electricity and improvements in electrolyzer efficiencies are essential to improving the economic attractiveness of hydrogen, regardless of scale.”

The Semakau Island project, which Engie is taking part in along with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and France’s Schneider Electric SE, aims to build demonstration microgrids that integrate wind, solar, tidal and diesel power along with storage to provide electricity to small island communities not connected to traditional power plants. The microgrid is expected to be operating by October, with hydrogen storage capabilities added next year, Holleaux said.

Engie sees big opportunities for such microgrids in Southeast Asia, especially in the Indonesian archipelago, where nearly 1,000 islands have populations that don’t have access to traditional power plants.

“It’s a region that’s open to innovation,” Holleaux said. “Many countries are ready to leapfrog directly from no power at all to a completely decentralized type of power, rather than going through the traditional centralized, interconnected network.”

PepsiCo, Walmart and setting a standard for sustainable fleets

A new BSR initiative brings together major fuel buyers to scope out the market for alternative fuels and heavy-duty electric vehicles

Mike O’Connell has a big job. As PepsiCo’s senior supply chain director for fleets and sustainability, he is tasked with overseeing the food and beverage giant’s fleet of 50,000 tractors, trailers, route trucks and other vehicles.

“We have a mix of about every truck type,” O’Connell observed. “We’re one of the larger private fleets in the United States.”

Amid an increase in fuel and electrification options for vehicles of all sizes, the company has moved to a blend of diesel, natural gas and even a handful of all-electric vehicles. But O’Connell and his peers overseeing other large corporate fleets have one problem: Until now, no one has really mapped out how the growing number of options stack up economically or in terms of environmental impact.

Enter the new Sustainable Fuel Buyers’ Principlesdrafted by companies such as PepsiCo, Walmart, UPS, Amazon and the nonprofit membership group Business for Social Responsibility, or BSR. The effort, an outgrowth of BSR’s ongoing “Future of Fuels” initiative, aims to bring fleet owners together to help grow the market for low-carbon or electric industrial vehicles.

“The story is definitely one of evolution,” said Nate Springer, who manages BSR’s Future of Fuels group. “There’s just a ton of information gaps and uncertainty and, frankly, disagreements on, ‘What is a sustainable fuel?’”

Springer hopes that 10 to 15 companies will be on board with the Sustainable Fuel Buyers’ Principles by year end. In the meantime, the group, which is free to join, will look to encourage fuel pilots, spur dialog about potential standards in the space and create case studies about successful implementations.

Modeled in part off the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principleshammered out by the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund to catalyse corporate clean energy deals, the idea is to inform automakers and other equipment manufacturers that the demand for traditional diesel alternatives exists.

“The buyers’ principles are signaling to the market that we really want to dig deeper,” O’Connell said. “There’s not one answer to the entire question of sustainable fuel or sustainable fleets. It would be great if I could just go buy one technology.”

Beyond efficiency

All told, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for about 23 per cent of annual US transportation emissions. That’s still well below the 61 per cent that comes from cars and other light-duty vehicles, but it is an area of impact that companies and regulators have been looking to decrease for years.

Elizabeth Fretheim, director of logistics sustainability at Walmart, said much of her focus in recent years has been on doubling the efficiency of the mega-retailer’s fleet of 6,400 tractors and 60,000 trailers — almost all of which are heavy duty class 8 trucks. Lightweighting vehicles, improving aerodynamics, experimenting with tyres and training drivers on downspeeding techniques are just a few tactics that Walmart has used to increase the number of cases shipped per gallon of fuel consumed.

Still, she said the company’s fuel portfolio remains “almost exclusively diesel,” a ratio that likely will have to change as Walmart embarks on a recently announced bid to cut one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas from its supply chain by 2030.

“We’ve been thinking of alt fuels for years, but we haven’t found a solution,” Fretheim said. “To fill the gap, we’re going to have to find alternatives.”

A dizzying array of biodiesel, natural gas and biomass options are commercially available today, although many come with their own environmental, performance and cost trade offs. Longer term, more radical alternatives such as electrification and hydrogen fuel cells are also on the horizon.

Springer said that BSR approaches the topic from a “fuel-neutral viewpoint,” but that the goal is to better understand the range of commercially viable power sources for vehicles. One way BSR hopes to answer that question is by producing more holistic data on the topic.

“Nobody has ever done a full demand study,” Springer said. “Ideally, this will help to give a sense of size and scope of the market.”

O’Connell, for his part, also cautions against an idealised view of all-electric trucks anytime soon.

“I don’t necessarily see a world where there’s no fuel,” he said.

The trouble with super-sized EVs

Given that a natural gas vs. diesel debate doesn’t thrill many environmental advocates, one longer-term issue to watch is how electrification translates to bigger vehicles.

As it stands, O’Connell and others said that there is still a disconnect between the range and availability of small vehicles operating on alt fuels or electric power trains and their bigger brethren.

PepsiCo, for instance, owns more than 100 medium-duty electric trucks used for short-range deliveries of 60 miles or less. The manufacturer of those trucks, Smith, is one of several niche providers that has faded.

“Unfortunately, due to the business environment, they didn’t sustain,” O’Connell said. “The problem is the industry is just not there yet. I’m very optimistic about what’s coming.”

A range of companies are eyeing the electric freight space, from upstarts such as Uber to major automakers including Volvo. Fretheim said she hopes one takeaway from the new fuel buyers’ principles is “a consistent message” that more advanced electrification options and other technologies would have buyers if they were commercialised.

Manufacturing issues aside, O’Connell said that arranging for the fuel or electric charging capacity to keep fleet facilities on the road is another problem. PepsiCo has helped finance natural gas stations near some of its distribution facilities, but electrification brings with it another set of infrastructure questions.

“There is a large amount of partnership with the utilities that’s needed if you scale up anymore to where you need more power,” O’Connell said.

With both fleets and the equipment needed to power them, Fretheim sees only one coherent path forward.

“We need to move forward as an industry because of the cost of the equipment and the cost of the infrastructure,” she said. “Unless we move forward as an industry, I don’t think we’ll succeed.”