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From CNG to Electrification: Takeaways from ACT Expo ‘22

To understand the future of clean transportation, it’s wise to reflect on how far it’s come. I recently flew to Long Beach, California to attend the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo. In its 12th-year of existence, ACT Expo is the largest advanced transportation technology and clean fleet event. Thinking back a decade ago, this event, and the entire transportation industry, looked quite a bit different than today.

In those days, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was prominently displayed as the technology that would allow businesses and municipalities to decrease their fuel expenses, pollution, and CO2 emissions.  At the same time, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) had just gone into effect as the first cap-and-trade program to attempt to decarbonize transportation fuel, and its prospects were still uncertain and Tesla had just started production on their Model S car—their first step into becoming the world’s most valuable automaker. 

10 years later, we can reflect on the gigantic technological leaps on display at the 2022 ACT Expo.  If there were any CNG displays, I couldn’t find them.  It was battery electric vehicles (EVs), from pick-ups to class 8 tractor trailers, standing squarely in the limelight.  As I looked across the showroom floor, with familiar (Peterbilt) and unfamiliar logos (OrangeEV) in attendance, I was met with a shiny chrome reality of how far technology has come in just a decade.

Drew Cullen, Penske Transportation Solutions, Carlos Maurer, Shell, and Mary Aufdemberg, Daimler Truck North America discussing the State of Sustainable Fleets

Conversations at the event focused on the unique implications of electrification and primarily consisted of the question, “How and when do I charge my new electric fleet?”  Utilities and EV charging companies roamed the expo floor offering hardware and software solutions to address this infrastructure limitation.

While it’s commonly accepted that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is less for Light Duty EVs than their internal combustion peers, the heavy duty sector is not yet obviously electrifiable.  Vehicle prices are stubbornly high and scale is limited, however, there appears to be no shortage of companies shouldering the burden of electrifying the heaviest duty vehicles.  Companies like Sysco, UPS, and Pepsi should be applauded for their efforts to decarbonize this sector.  The good news is that despite supply chain challenges, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit that can leverage the limited vehicular supply to make electrification financially smart and sustainable.

We can also reflect on the successes of the past conferences and regulations.  The LCFS program, in concept but not name, has expanded into Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.  There is also definitive proof that this regulation has resulted in decreased carbon emissions from transportation while also spawning new business opportunities.  In 2021, the CNG fleet in California was powered 98% by renewable natural gas, mostly captured from landfills and dairy manure!  Recently, bio-diesel repurposed from lower value feedstock became the fastest growing decarbonized fuel in the LCFS market.

As we look towards the future, hydrogen fuel is attempting to be the next big thing. And this fuel, if produced by renewables, provides decarbonized fuel solutions without impacts in range and charging time. The catch, however, remains the severe lack of fueling stations to serve any notable demand.  In my conversations with fleet owners, skepticism abounds when exploring their options in the hydrogen space.  In the next 10 years we might see this fuel carve out a niche around the most demanding vehicular use cases but my prediction is that the combination of battery costs declining, battery energy density improving, and a rapidly maturing EV fueling infrastructure will keep hydrogen out of the mainstream.

Other good news relates to new sources of funding given the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill.  The figures presented at the ACT Expo are close to $20 billion a year for the next 5 years.  The furthest developed projects are most likely to receive funding and my opinion is that developing these pilot projects early will be rewarded. 

For support in exploring decarbonized transportation options like LCFS, EVs, hydrogen, or what grant opportunities exist, please reach out to me and our team here at 3Degrees I look forward to next year’s ACTExpo and another opportunity to reflect!