|At a Glance|
Providers that supply alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicle training include:
The Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 or “EPAct” amended the National Energy Conservation Act and established several energy management goals for the nation. Government fleets have been impacted by the act and subsequent regulations and policies on the federal, state, and local levels that set requirements for the acquisition of alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs). While the regulations and criteria driving AFVs into government fleets evolve, fleets must adapt to a multitude of new vehicle technologies.
In addition to driver training, fleets must also train technicians to repair and maintain these vehicles, and training varies based on vehicle types.
A Fuel-Neutral Training Consortium
Ensuring technicians can understand and work with these new technologies is the job of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), where the mission is clean air and energy independence.
NAFTC was founded about 22 years ago at West Virginia University (WVU), around the time EPAct was enacted, with an emphasis on gaseous fuels technician training and helping conversion companies build clean AFVs.
Acting Director Bill Davis considers NAFTC to be essentially a training partner of the Department of Energy (DOE) Clean Cities Program, which supports public and private partnerships that deploy alternative-fuel vehicles. As a result, more than 30,000 technicians representing 1,000 organizations have been trained through NAFTC. NAFTC trains educators, technicians, vehicle operators, and most recently first responders on all aspects of how to use, maintain, and utilize a variety of AFVs. The organization has adopted a train-the-trainer approach, developing training materials, curricula, and even diagnostic tools for their programs. “The prerequisite for AFV training is a firm grasp of electronics and computer diagnostics,” Davis said. Not simple stuff, considering electronics is a branch of physics.
Davis said the NAFTC is fuel-neutral and has developed and taught classes about:
- Fuel economy and idle reduction
- Biofuels such as E-85 and biodiesel
- Natural gas and propane autogas
- Hydrogen and fuel cells
- Electric-drive vehicles, including battery electric and hybrid electric.
According to Davis, the need for training on electric drive and hybrid vehicles was apparent early on based on misinformation presented in national news stories. For example, he pointed to news reports that said if an electric vehicle lost control and went into a body of water, first responders could be electrocuted by entering the water for rescue operations. “Not true,” he said. “We identified a demand for AFV training for first responders based on just that kind of misinformation.” NAFTC also designs and builds tools for training and diagnosis such as the first cutaway Toyota Prius built for hands-on training at its WVU headquarters and a first responder app tool it designed for Android phones and iPhones.
“Technician training will always be a work in progress; there will continue to be major changes in battery technology,” Davis said.
He added that today’s grade school students may hold the key to future scientific developments. “Surprisingly, one of the biggest advances in the biofuels movement recently came when a 17-year-old high school student from Colorado Springs, Colo., won the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious high school science competition, for her experiments with algae as a biofuel. To conduct the research, the student figured out how to grow algae in a box under her bed,” Davis said. “Developments like that could change battery technology, capacitors, and the fundamentals of how electricity is stored.”
NGVi Provides ‘Laser Focus’ for Natural Gas Training
The Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (NGVi) is a technical training provider focused on both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles. Established in 1989, NGVi is the only Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) CASE (Continuing Automotive Service Education) accredited training provider for CNG and LNG vehicles.
Paul Pate, training manager for NGVi, said the company’s vehicle training mission is to “provide accurate and relevant technical training to prepare technicians to safely and competently inspect, diagnose, and repair natural gas vehicles.”
Pate appreciates what he calls NGVi’s “laser focus on natural gas” as a means to be able to go deeper into the subject matter. Technicians are trained to work on LNG or CNG vehicles produced by original equipment manufacturers or converted by upfitters and/or qualified vehicle modifiers that meet federal standards.
NGVi offers three levels of training for CNG and/or LNG technicians. Level 1 training, “Technician and Fleet Operations Safety Training,” helps technicians and fleet operations personnel who will be working in or around natural gas vehicles understand the differences between natural gas and traditional liquid fuels, the safety procedures that need to be implemented, and the basic fuel system’s operation. Additionally, this course provides an overview of the natural gas infrastructure, fueling stations and their operation, and special facility requirements for repair of these vehicles for both CNG and LNG. This training is available in both instructor-led and online course format.
Next is “CNG Fuel System Inspector Training,” a two-day course designed for technicians tasked with carrying out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requirement to inspect every CNG fuel system every 3 years/36,000 miles (whichever comes first), as well as after any fire or accident exceeding 5 mph. This training teaches technicians to perform a complete fuel system inspection and prepares them to successfully pass the CSA Group CNG Fuel System Inspector Certification exam, which can be an important layer of risk management protection for fleets by helping ensure that their technicians not only took training but have also demonstrated their knowledge and skills based upon established third-party international standards.
“NGV Heavy-Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics Training,” is a three-day intensive course for experienced diesel technicians who will be diagnosing and maintaining heavy-duty NGVs. “What sets this training apart is that it trains technicians on the entire natural gas system, beginning with the high-pressure fuel system, then through the unique components in the engine’s fuel and ignition system, and finishing with the emissions system,” Pate noted. The focus of this class is in the special maintenance requirements and diagnostics of the major fuel system components. An overview of LNG and dual-fuel systems is also included.
NGVi also offers an “NGV Light-Duty Maintenance and Diagnostics Training” course that follows the same outline as the heavy-duty training but focuses on light-duty natural gas vehicles.
“Even seasoned vehicle technicians with years of experience need training before they can safely work on natural-gas-powered vehicles. Because CNG is lighter than air, it presents a different set of handling and maintenance requirements for technicians,” Pate said.The other primary unique characteristic of CNG vehicles is their high-pressure fuel systems. NGVi’s training courses are designed to give technicians an understanding of how these systems work and how to safely provide maintenance and repair to the vehicles, including the fuel systems.
Recommended prerequisites include a grasp of basic internal combustion engine systems and electrical system diagnosis. “The class will meet the needs of both the experienced technician who is just new to natural gas as well as a technician who is newer to the overall industry and could use a reinforcement of some of the basic principles of pressure systems, combustion, ignition, and emission controls,” Pate said.
To meet the demand for NGV training around the country, NGVi offers its training in two ways: publicly at vehicle training centers and technical colleges across the country and as in-house classes. The public training option allows fleets that have a few technicians to get their staff trained efficiently. For fleets with larger numbers of technicians, NGVi brings its training to the client’s facility and can customize the training. NGVi’s training includes both classroom instruction and hands-on workshops with labs to give technicians the opportunity to practice skills they learn in the classroom.
Hybrids & EVs: Removing the Fear Factor
“For technicians to remain competitive and employable today, learning hybrid and electric vehicle technology is essential and unavoidable,” said Craig Van Batenburg, CEO of training company Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC).
ACDC focuses on hybrid and electric-vehicle training, producing webinars, DVDs, tools, and equipment for technician training.
“Hybrid electric cars don’t feel the same as gas-powered cars,” Van Batenburg said. “Fleets, shops, technicians, and operators are finding these new technologies require a new communications skill set.” He also feels fleets need to educate operators and technicians from the time vehicle orders are planned, through delivery, driving, servicing, fueling, and disposal.
Van Batenburg said training has to conquer that initial fear of the unknown that AFVs represent. “You can’t pay anyone enough to overcome fear for their safety, so key to training on hybrid and electric vehicles is how to approach and repair them safely,” he said. His approach is to lead by example, demonstrating proper techniques on shop vehicles and then having students try it, removing the fear factor.
“To get internal combustion engine mechanics comfortable with hybrids and electric vehicles, we might use a discussion of fuel injectors, something they understand, and relate them to how a battery can be out of balance like an injector system,” he said. “Basic electrical is the secret sauce — without that, the training won’t work.” He urges fleets to invest in basic electrical training for technicians to create a solid foundation for understanding AFVs, especially hybrids and EVs.
Van Batenburg recently got involved in an e-learning program, an approach to technician training that includes pictures, diagrams, and interactive meters that is in tune with a younger generation of up-and-coming technicians who were raised as much on video games as reading books. The approach was developed in Amsterdam by a Dutch company called Electude.
ACDC offers its six-day “Up Your Voltage” class at its Massachusetts facility and other training worldwide.
Keeping Up Training in a Changing Industry
If your fleet is looking for assurances that the technicians on staff or who you hire are qualified to maintain AFVs, one standard of qualification is ASE certifications. “The use of alternate fuels will continue to grow, and natural gas will play a significant role. Training and certification to service these vehicles, particularly in the heavy-duty segment, will open new opportunities for technicians holding these credentials,” said Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
“We’ll be seeing more light-duty diesel engines and the continuing growth of hybrid/electric powertrains as the vehicle manufacturers strive to meet ever-increasing fuel economy standards. The ASE certifications for both light- and heavy-duty diesel engines and a new hybrid/electric vehicle certification, launching in January 2015, will continue to provide professional alternate-fuel credentials fleet managers and other employers look for when making hiring decisions.”
The vehicle maintenance profession has changed considerably and continues to change as new vehicle technologies are developed. When Davis, with the NAFTC, first visited the Tesla Model S electric vehicle plant in Fremont, Calif., he was struck by the futuristic assembly facility, causing him to contemplate the way the technology landscape is shaping up for automotive repair technicians.
“The automotive maintenance and repair industry today faces change not seen since the 1900s when Henry Ford invented the automobile — and that change will continue. With advancements such as smart cars and even smart highways featuring inductive charging, the future has definitely arrived,” he said.
How Los Angeles Handles AFV Training
Alternative-fuel vehicles are nothing new to the City of Los Angeles, which has incorporated thousands of compressed natural gas (CNG) and hybrid vehicles into its fleet since 2000. The fleet currently includes 255 CNG vehicles, mostly heavy-duty trucks, and 2,000 hybrid passenger sedans. Fleet Director Richard Coulson attributes the success of the program to a combination of in-house training procedures and external, professional training supplied by its equipment manufacturing partners such as Cummins. Coulson said Los Angeles’ approach has been to work toward being self-sufficient enough to perform basic maintenance and repair tasks such as reading codes and changing sensors safely while relying on the manufacturers to handle more complex repair operations.
About the Author
Barbara Bonansinga is a freelance writer and fleet manager with the State of Illinois. She is the President of the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators (NCSFA) and serves on the NAFA Board of Governors.
- Richard Coulson, fleet director, City of Los Angeles
- Bill Davis, acting director, National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC)
- Tony Molla, vice president of communications, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)
- Paul Pate, training manager, Natural Gas Vehicle Institute (NGVi)
- Craig Van Batenburg, CEO, Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC)