Yale University is exploring the pros and cons of biodiesel amid a range of alternative fuels. Hocon Gas is supplying autogas, and using it too.
By Stephen Bennett
Yale University runs some vehicles fueled by a diesel-biodiesel blend and some vehicles fueled by propane as the university works towards creating a reduced-emissions, sustainable fleet, Ron Gitelman, Yale’s fleet program administrator, told an audience at AltWheels Fleet Day.
“Sustainability is not only alternative fuels,” Gitelman says. A full consideration of alternative fuel vehicles includes GHG emissions, ROI, fueling infrastructure, maintenance, and cost savings.
The university, in New Haven, Conn., is in a low air-quality region, Gitelman says. High emissions from the Midwest and from traffic congestion on major highways that pass through or near the city pose a challenge. Yale is engaged in an effort to mitigate emissions, with goals to be reached over the next eight years—by 2025, he says. AltWheels Fleet Day was held Oct. 2 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood, Mass.
Yale vehicles range in annual mileage from a couple of hundred to 30,000 per year. Alternative fuels are being used on high-mileage vehicles currently. Gitelman says Yale is working on solutions for low-mileage vehicles.
Yale is running a carbon charge tax in a pilot program, in which university buildings are charged for the cost of carbon dioxide emissions. Although the “tax” isn’t imposed on vehicles, Gitelman says Yale fleet management plays a role in emissions reduction by focusing on sustainability through procurement, operation, and disposal of vehicles, and reducing the size of the fleet. The downsizing has already begun, as the fleet, once 530 vehicles, now numbers 475; the plan is to reduce it further, to 450, Gitelman says.
Biodiesel has been part of the fleet program for years: In 2009 Yale implemented B5 and B20 in its transit fleet. Wet hosing was an option until a temporary tank was recently installed, Gitelman says. “A major concern” is warranty issues, he says. Noting that the university is “risk averse,” Gitelman says, “The law is clear about denial of warranty claims, but Yale can’t have vehicles down while fighting for resolution.”
In the meantime, wintertime usage tends to be limited to B5 to avoid clogging of diesel particulate filters, Gitelman says, while B20 is used in Spring through Fall. Drivers use a universal fuel card to purchase standard diesel fuel in cases when the vehicle is not in range for biodiesel refueling. Installation of a temporary tank is helping to reduce use of diesel in these circumstances, Gitelman says. The vehicles also must use diesel when biodiesel deliveries are not made due to weather or other logistical concerns.
The Yale fleet introduced CNG vehicles starting with two Thomas Transits and three MV-1 in 2012 and 2013. And it purchased two 20-seat E450 Cutaway CNG buses in 2014. Gitelman says reduction in gasoline costs without corresponding reduction in CNG costs “basically eliminated any ROI.” Part of the challenge is that the fueling infrastructure consists of two stations about three to 10 miles from Yale’s transit yard, making it inefficient to fuel and run routes, he says. Further, the university is unable to install its own infrastructure due to zoning and other issues. A lack of maintenance facilities near campus—the closest was about 25 miles away—meant too much downtime for maintenance. The upshot is that the fleet is planning no additions of CNG vehicles in the foreseeable future, Gitelman says, and it is converting two CNG Cutaways to dedicated propane.
In 2015 the Yale fleet purchased three buses that were sent for after-market hybrid upfitting. More recently the fleet ordered a hybrid upfit of a Ford Transit 150 passenger/cargo van.
In Fall 2016, just over a year ago, the fleet added three bi-fuel propane buses, and this spring, another six. Currently the fleet is awaiting a tank redesign before adding more, Gitelman says. The additional planned vehicle purchases include 11 Ford transit vans and one GMC dump body truck. A private fueling station has been built and the university is working on construction of a second station.
Gitelman says he is reviewing electric vehicle options, and may purchase several passenger vehicles for the purpose of giving “safe rides” to students in evening hours from locations on campus to residences. He says he explored electric cargo vans, but found an issue is cost and lack of local maintenance facilities for various brands. Electric buses cost about four times what the fleet’s current budget provides, he says. Buying electric vehicles also means installing electric charging bay markings on our property.
Looking ahead, the plan is to purchase alternative fuel vehicles “when available or [when they are the] most sustainable vehicle available for [the] needed purpose,” Gitelman says.
Hocon Gas, headquartered in Shelton, Conn., displayed a 1,000-gallon propane tank on a trailer at AltWheels Fleet Day. Hocon has two of the dispensing units, which are used “for temporary purposes,” Tim Brown, Hocon’s Autogas manager, said in a phone interview after the event. If an autogas dealer is awaiting a permit for a permanent fueling station to be installed, for example, the trailer can be used with a temporary permit. “You just plug it into a 110 outlet and the customers can get their fuel,” Brown says.
Hocon Gas itself has more than 20 propane-fueled vehicles, Brown says, including four bulk propane delivery trucks.
Pictured: Alison Sanders, AltWheels co-founder, with the propane-fueled pickup truck used daily by Tim Brown, Autogas manager for Hocon Gas, Shelton, Conn. Photo by Andy Frongillo.