How Alternative Fuels Will Power Global Commerce

Want to chart a sustainable path for a warming world? It begins with commercially viable green energy.

The global population will race past 9 billion by the year 2050, fueling a boom in energy use around the world.

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In planning for the cities of tomorrow, we must ensure our blueprints are sustainable.

You need not be a math whiz to know this growth could leave a massive carbon footprint.

From a logistics perspective, this quandary is particularly vexing. As logisticians, we’re tasked with getting people whatever they want whenever they want it.

But doing so is hardly our lone calling. In planning for the cities of tomorrow, we must ensure our blueprints are sustainable.

This requires finding a happy medium between fostering global commerce and promoting environmental stewardship.

But as any engineer could attest, your solutions are only as good as the tools at your disposal. That’s where alternative fuels come into play.

[Also on Longitudes: Staying the Course on Alternative Fuel]

A greener path to the future

Green power sources, such as solar, methane and renewable diesel provide a practical way forward. They are the missing variables that could help us solve what some fear is an unsolvable problem: profitably moving goods while protecting the environment.

If employed effectively, green energy could become the optimal solution for commercial transportation fuels in a carbon-constrained world.

Ideally, a fuel source would cheaply power planes, trains and automobiles – and do so in virtually every market around the globe. Any successful fuel source, however, would have to harness existing infrastructure to meet unyielding demand.

[Also on Longitudes: From Garbage to Gas]

Solar in the Outback

Such an approach is on full display at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia each October. Solar electric vehicles make the nearly 2,000-mile trek across the Australian Outback, showcasing the viability of such cars.

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Green energy could become the optimal solution for commercial transportation fuels.

The MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) and UPS are two of many academic and corporate supporters of this global competition. Why? Because the solar electric vehicles used at this event are designed, built and fielded by students who will develop future sustainable energy technologies.

But solar power is just one part of the equation.

Nearly every landfill, agriculture site and manufacturing plant generates methane. In most cases, methane is released into the atmosphere, emitting more than 21 times the GHG emissions compared to carbon dioxide. Imagine the benefits of capturing methane emissions at landfills and also replacing carbon-heavy fuels.

Renewable diesel is another exciting energy source. Going beyond alternative fuels like biodiesel and ethanol, synthetic diesel doesn’t have the same blending constraints – it can be used by conventional engines and newer models.

A sparkplug for logistics

Logistics companies like UPS are tapping into a diverse range of energy sources to power its transportation fleet.

UPS is working with the European Union’s Freight Electric Vehicles in Urban Europe (FREVUE) project to transform its delivery network.

For example, in London, there is a congestion charge zone in the city center where users of traditionally fueled vehicles pay a surcharge to drive during weekday business hours. UPS currently has 28 electric trucks operating in London, with another 40 expected in the next few years – the ultimate goal is an all-electric fleet in London’s city center.

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We’re on the cusp of a green-energy revolution driven by real-world solutions.

Across European cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Hamburg, UPS has nearly 80 electric vehicles meeting the needs of customers.

UPS is testing an electrically supported cargo bike for the delivery and pickup of packages in downtown Basel, Switzerland.

Augmenting these services is a growing focus on “final-mile” deliveries. Think of it as a ride-sharing program for packages. Bicycles, push carts and other economically friendly modes of transportation can handle the last leg in a given supply chain, helping delivery trucks avoid the most congested areas in a city.

These initiatives underscore UPS’s commitment to drive 1 billion miles in our alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet by the end of 2017.

By utilizing a rolling laboratory approach in which UPS uses our fleet size and diversity to test the viability of alternative fuels in real-world operating conditions, we’re actively learning about new energy sources.

As the number of alternative fuel vehicles continues to grow, businesses, governments and NGOs will need to collaborate even more to expand access to such energy sources.

Together, we’re on the cusp of a green-energy revolution driven by real-world solutions.

As we brace for explosive urban growth, energy will be the sparkplug, not a deterrent, to broader prosperity. goldbrown2


Every morning, wake up to the blog that gives you the latest trends shaping tomorrow.

Randy Stashick is President of Engineering at UPS.

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