New York City and the State of New Jersey began coping with “alternative fuels” about 100 years ago. Back then, regular fuels were oats and hay for horses, and coal for trains. Pollution problems (vehicle exhaust) abounded, but the science did not exist to explain the risks associated with these fuels.

In the early 1900s, both New York City (NYC) and New Jersey (N.J.) were heavily industrialized, and the population of New York City already topped 3.4 million. (For comparison, the second-largest city in the U.S. today is Los Angeles with a population of 3.8 million.) There is, however, one significant difference between the early 20th and 21st centuries. Then, whatever fuel was used (wood, coal, oil, grain) was an American fuel, part of the nation’s economy. Today, 85 percent of the petroleum fuel powering vehicles in New York City and New Jersey is imported from near (Canada and Mexico) and far (Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, for example), and our taxpayer dollars are exported to those places in return at the rate of roughly $1 to $1.50 a gallon.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) recently reported more than 9 million alternative-fuel (hybrids, clean diesel, and ethanol-capable) vehicles in use in the U.S. This sounds large, but compared to the U.S. human population of 300 million and an on-road vehicle population of about 220 million, alt-fueled vehicles represent only about 4 percent of all vehicles. This will change as hybrid vehicles gain deeper market penetration and alternative fuels become more common. The AAM expects about 2 million of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. to be alternative-fuel by 2008, a market penetration of about 12 percent.

New York & New Jersey Take Alt-Fuel Leadership Roles
New York City has taken a leadership role in working with today’s alternative fuels. So too, has the State of New Jersey. The municipal and state government efforts were prompted by three basic reasons: to clean the air, create local jobs, and reduce dependency on imported fuel just as was desired by Presidents George H.W. Bush (1988-1992), Bill Clinton (1992- 2000), and the current President Bush.

With a history of more than a decade of alt-fuel vehicle use, what has been learned? What works for government fleets? And, where do things stand now?

New York City’s Mark Simon of the Dept. of Transportation, Assistant Commissioner Rocco DiRico of the Department of Sanitation, and the New Jersey Department of Treasury’s George Krumenacker, recently shared insights from their relatively long experiences with alternative fuel and vehicles. They covered the most popular and growing fuel choices, all of which provide a reduction in petroleum fuel use, better or as-good emissions levels, and minimal upset to existing fleet procedures and operations.
New York City’s fleet consists of more than 1,700 hybrids, including the Generation 1 & 2 Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrid.

Early Adapters of Hybrids
Both NYC and New Jersey were early adopters of hybrid light-duty vehicles in 2001. Both have a mix of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape vehicles. Both report that everything is going “about as advertised” with the hybrids. For the Prius, fuel economy in NYC was reported at about 40 mpg, whereas the N.J. fleet reported about 48 mpg. The N.J. mpg is surprising because hybrids have better fuel economy ratings in city traffic. But the mpg figure reflects both the actual driving cycle and the amount of air-conditioning use in the vehicles.

The NYC hybrid fleet is enormous — more than 1,700 Generation I and Generation 2 Toyota Prius hybrids and Ford Escapes hybrids— a very large sample fleet with vehicles exposed to all types of drivers and service.

New Jersey’s hybrid fleet is more modest, comprising 91 Prius and 44 Escape vehicles. The Prius buys were expensive, but fuel savings have been significant. In addition, service problems have been minimal, and no premature battery failures were reported. N.J. reports a savings of about 600 gallons per vehicle per year compared to a conventional vehicle. In terms of weight, that is a savings of about 4,000 lbs. of fuel each year — quite a bit more than the weight of the Prius itself (approximately 3,000 lbs.).

Krumenacker, from the Treasury Department, commented that it would take more than seven years of 600 gallon-a-year savings at a gasoline price of $2 a gallon before the state would hit the first cost break-even point. The price premium for hybrid drive may be dropping as they become more common in the market place. The cost of petroleum fuel is highly variable, so it may be best to use a hypothetical floor and ceiling on fuel price when doing budget estimates.

The 200 Ford Escapes, introduced in 2004, are holding their own along with the Prius in terms of durability and serviceability. In New York City, about 100 Escapes also have been placed in cab service. This taxi fleet will be valuable to track since rapid mileage accumulation in urban driving will include many start/stop cycles, some rough pavement, short spurts at cruise speed, etc. The Ford Escape hybrids in taxi service are achieving about 17 mpg, while the standard Ford Crown Victoria taxis are getting only 12 mpg — a 40-percent improvement. Taxis average about 100,000 miles per year, so their experience is close to accelerated testing with fuel cost benefits quickly adding up.

E-85 Not Readily Available
The Northeast is not the easiest place to use ethanol fuel.While it is used as an oxygenate (up to 10 percent) in New York state and Connecticut, there has been no real incentive for ethanol fuel use as E-85 because the Northeast is geographically too far from ethanol processing plants. NYC’s Sanitation Department however, decided it operated enough E-85 vehicles (now more than 500 Ford Tauruses and Explorers) to commit to E-85 use by making minor changes to its refueling facilities and purchasing the fuel through Sprague Energy, Inc., a major supplier of fuels in the Northeast.

Six refueling stations are now running, one in every borough but Queens, which has two stations. E-85 has lower heat content and a higher octane number (about 76,000 BTU/gallon and more than 100 octane) than straight gasoline (about 114,000 BTU/gallon and 87 to 91 octane). Though E-85 users burn far fewer gallons of gasoline, they do burn more total gallons of fuel.

Sanitation officials also note that the department follows ethanol-industry recommendations and uses E-70 during cold winter months to prevent vehicle starting problems. In either case, a gallon of E-85 or E-70 has less heat energy per volume than gasoline. That does mean more refills and pumping more fuel over the course of a year unless the ethanol vehicle is also a hybrid. Ford introduced the E-85 Hybrid Escape in early 2006 for delivery in 2007. When using gasoline, the front-wheel-drive hybrid is rated at 36 city/31 highway mpg. Fitted with a 15-gallon tank, Ford claims a range greater than 500 miles on gasoline. Using E-85, range still should be more than 400 miles be- 28 Government Fleet March / April 2007 tween fills. These new ethanol Hybrid Escapes are now on order for the Sanitation Department under its normal light-duty fleet vehicle replacement program.

N.J. a Leader in Biodiesel
Most fleet managers understand “biodiesel” is blendable with petrodiesel and serves as an excellent low-emission fuel extender with high cetane numbers and good lubricity to minimize internal fuel system wear problems. New Jersey is a leader in biodiesel operation with the Medford School District in central Jersey. Operating for nearly a decade, the Medford school bus fleet has displaced 20 percent of its petroleum with biodiesel since 1997.

Biodiesel fuel is the most transparent alternative fuel: any existing diesel power engine can use it without changing the refueling facility or the vehicle as long as fuel systems are clean. B-5 (5-percent biodiesel) is a good starter to gain confidence with this renewable fuel. NYC Sanitation is currently using B-5 at a depot in the Bronx with expectations to increase to B-20. Use at the 20-percent rate, however, is required to qualify as an alternative-fuel vehicle under the 1992 Energy Policy Act.

Medford’s experience with B-20 since 1997 has been all good — no changes in fuel economy, noticeably reduced exhaust emissions exposure, and quieter engine idle operation. The N.J. Dept. of Transportation headquarters now dispenses B-20, as do several municipalities. One should note that higher percentage blends of biodiesel above 20 percent are not restricted during warm weather. This may be useful when diesel prices exceed biodiesel prices during the summer months. Biodiesel is slightly more sensitive to cold temperatures than petro-diesel, so higher concentration blends could be used only where and when temperatures don’t approach freezing.

NYC Park Dept.Uses Electric Vehicles
New York City has replaced many of its gasoline- or diesel-powered off-road equipment with electric battery vehicles (EVs) such as the GEMCar.They are used by the Parks Department or where their size and speed (25 mph max) is compatible with the assignment — street and sidewalk patrol. Electric-powered units would also be ideal for airport ground service assignments since electric motors have high torque at low speed, excellent for light towing purposes.

These vehicles need no petroleum fuel at all and can be recharged by normal 120 VAC current. Instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries fitted in hybrid cars, the EVs depend on proven technology lead acid batteries to store power.

CNG Fleet Struggling
New York City was a strong advocate for light-duty compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles during the 1990s. Recent decisions by the OEMs, however, have left the fleet without choices for new OEM replacement dedicated-CNG vehicles. Only the Honda Civic GX is available as a sedan. New York City is buying them to keep its CNG fleet in operation. Some bi-fuel (uses either CNG or gasoline) light trucks are also available. New Jersey purchased more than 1,300 bi-fuel CNG vehicles (Chevrolet Cavaliers, Ford Contours, and F-150 and E-350 trucks, plus dedicated Honda Civics and Ford Crown Victorias), but did not bring on a CNG refueling network as quickly as it brought on the vehicles.

Looking Ahead
Government fleet operations are intended to support the mission of the government agency and to follow overall government policy. Energy independence is clearly in the best interest of the nation and is, in fact, a federal and state policy. Other government fleets — municipal, school systems, counties, etc.— must face the same realization everyone faces: the U.S. vehicle fleet can no longer expect to get even half of its petroleum from U.S. sources. About 60 percent of the petroleum used in this country is imported.

The U.S. must respond now as a previous generation responded 100 years ago: evaluate the options available as New York City and New Jersey fleets have done, and choose the new technologies that best suit your fleet looking ahead to the next decade or so. Would you have wanted to be the last fleet using horses, hay, and grain while everyone else had already moved on to Model Ts and gasoline? Today, newer vehicles may look the same, but between hybrids, biofuel compatible fuel systems, and electric vehicles, a fleet can get by with fewer gallons of petrofuels, lower emission and greenhouse gases, fewer exported dollars, and maybe even fewer total dollars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Art Vatsky, PE, is president of Future Fuels Consulting in Teaneck, N.J.