These days, electrification is often the most prominent answer to the question of how to remove carbon from fleet operations — whether it’s due to the millions of dollars in federal funding being pumped into developing charging infrastructure and stimulating electric vehicle (EV) adoption, the highly visible adoption of EVs by companies like Amazon and FedEx, or just the spike in EV commercials and advertising.
While EVs will be a crucial component of wide-scale decarbonization, most fleets aren’t able to deploy them exclusively any time soon. To achieve a successful net-zero landscape, we will need to rely on a mix of decarbonization solutions and technologies, each best fit for different applications. In transportation, there are a range of ways to reduce emissions that don’t rely on standard electrification, from the fuels themselves to the way they reach vehicles. As the EV market continues to scale and fleet managers pursue customized solutions for their unique needs, mixed energy fleets will be key to lowering emissions.
Preparing for Electrification
Electrification is a critical solution for decarbonizing transportation, but we still need to develop ample grid capacity, wide-scale charging infrastructure, and an adequate supply of clean energy to meet demand. The barriers to EVs are well-known, and great pains are being taken — both by regulators and industry stakeholders — to overcome them. But it would be imprudent to wait on EV development to decarbonize fleets, especially when there are other ways to achieve sustainability gains over the short to medium term.
As electrification continues to scale, the current feasibility of adoption is limited for many fleets by various factors. When you take budgets, fleet data, timing, and resourcing into account, the reality of what can be immediately achieved shifts significantly.
A fleet could set a goal to be carbon-neutral by 2030, and plan to achieve that through electrification. But what if the lead time on EV procurements is more than a year out? And budgets only allow for the purchase of one or two vehicles annually? It’s likely the nearest charging station is further away than the closest gas station, adding extra drive time. Plus charging takes longer than fueling, especially with the heavy-duty batteries. Building charging stations at fleet yards is infrastructure-intensive and expensive, and fleet managers can’t ensure their power supply is green.
The intricacies continue to layer, and it becomes increasingly clear that electrification just isn’t right for every fleet manager; at least not right now. The best decarbonization plans will involve fleets preparing for EV adoption in parallel with projects to decarbonize their current internal combustion engine fleets, making steady progress along the way.
Each fleet’s decarbonization journey will look different depending on location, fleet size, timeline, budget, and market availability. Fleets looking to decarbonize have several feasible options beyond electrification.
Sustainable alternative fuels — created from renewable feedstocks like biomass, municipal waste, industrial scrap and more — can serve as “drop-in” replacements that offer lower carbon emissions and are indistinguishable from their conventional counterparts. Renewable diesel offers up to 70% lower lifecycle emissions compared to petroleum diesel, while also offering better vehicle performance, reduced maintenance, cleaner fuel burning, and no equipment upgrades or replacements.
For many fleet managers, an iterative transition away from conventional fuels will likely be the most feasible solution. This might look like transitioning to a mix of sustainable fuels now and adding a few EVs to the mix each year, or slowly phasing out petroleum diesel in favor of renewable diesel while waiting for hydrogen fuel cell EVs to scale. What is key is that fleet managers look at the solutions landscape holistically, and create their own personalized plan based on budget, timeline, and application.
Mobile Energy Delivery
As fleets begin to adopt mixed-energy frameworks, fueling will become more complex — many traditional fueling stations still fail to offer electric charging or sustainable fuels. But mobile energy delivery has arisen as a solution, providing the adaptability necessary to service a mixed-energy fleet and lowering emissions.
With mobile energy delivery like that offered by Booster®, conventional and alternative fuels are delivered directly from the terminal to a fleet’s yard in non-operating hours. This model offers a range of fuels to any location, simplifying fueling for mixed-energy fleets. It also lowers emissions by up to 14% even with conventional fuels.
None of this is to say that fleet managers should avoid electrifying. Electrification will be the right choice for many, but barriers to adoption prohibit wide-scale use right now. For many fleets, the transition will be iterative and will require a range of solutions, from mixed-energy fleets to sustainable fuels to mobile fueling. What matters most is that we continue to make progress in decarbonizing transportation, and take advantage of every solution along the way.
Chris Kaufield is Vice President of Sustainability and Electrification at Booster, leading development of new fleet decarbonization solutions. Through Booster's own infrastructure services and its energy partner network, Kaufield and his team work to accelerate the shift to zero-emissions transportation.