The Urgency of Unfinished Business

The innovation that has spurred cleaner, more efficient transportation must continue to accelerate.

­­­­The following is an edited version of a speech Carlton Rose, president of UPS Global Fleet Maintenance & Engineering, gave May 2 at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, California.

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The key to continuing the incredible progress of the past decade is collaboration.

A short decade or so ago, oil was at $147 a barrel. Oil producers were telling us to brace for $170 or more. There were predictions of the day when our ability to extract oil would peak, then fall, with some unpleasant consequences to follow.

That shock to the nation’s system kicked off a time of discovery and support for alternative fuels and advanced transportation technologies. We saw more progress in 10 years than we had seen in the previous century.

In that span, America went from energy hostage to major energy producer. Rising supply and slowing economies have since combined to push down oil prices with little indication of a reversal any time soon.

For alternative fuels and clean transportation technologies, the drop in oil prices brings the industry to a critical decision point: back off and enjoy the profits, or keep pushing and build on the progress.

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

Innovating for a cleaner world

For anyone in touch with the realities of cycles and geopolitics, the answer is clear. We have unfinished business.

The innovation that has rewritten the possibilities for cleaner and more efficient transportation must not only continue, it must broaden and accelerate.

The current state of innovation at UPS can be summed up in the 6,800 alternative and advanced technology vehicles in our fleet and in our goal for these vehicles to hit 1 billion miles by 2017.

In fleet size and miles, our largest focus is on natural gas: compressed (CNG); liquid (LNG), propane and a new and exciting area, renewable (RNG).

RNG is gaining attention because it addresses two big problems with one promising solution.

Decomposing material – such as in landfills – produces methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. Some is captured for local power, but most goes into the atmosphere.

If we can create the infrastructure to capture and purify it – and those technologies are available – RNG can be moved over existing pipelines and used as either CNG or LNG in vehicles.

The more scale we can create, the less methane makes it into the atmosphere, and the more gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles can be removed from our roads.

These fuels are still petroleum-based, but they are creating a bridge. One of the first places the natural gas bridge takes us is to renewable diesel – made from bio-based processes that utilize anything from palm oil to cooking grease to chicken fat.

Renewable diesel works as well or better than traditional diesel. It can be blended with almost anything, it’s less polluting and it turns what would be waste into energy.

This can be a major step forward for the industry. The only issue is supply. UPS committed to buy 46 million gallons of renewable diesel through 2017 – a commitment we hope will help spur investment in processing.

Looking toward a future of zero-emission transportation – still a long way off on a commercial scale – the focus is batteries. UPS has some history here. We had a fleet of battery-powered trucks on the streets of New York in the ‘30s.

[Also on Longitudes: How Alternative Fuels Will Power Global Commerce]

Exploring opportunities

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We can create a cleaner, healthier world.

Today, we’re exploring all the possibilities, including electric, hybrid and the newer hydraulic hybrids that capture energy from the braking action and store it for acceleration from a stop.

These are all vehicles we have on the road right now. They will get us to the horizon. But we have to think beyond it.

Just like electric car owners, our drivers live in a state of range anxiety. On a good day, we might get 100 miles on a charge. Throw in traffic, weather and driver behavior, and it might be as few as 50.

But the battery of the future is on the way.

One path is lithium air batteries, which create voltage out of oxygen and positively charged lithium ions. They are 10 times the density of regular lithium ion batteries and create 10 times the energy, a density similar to gasoline.

We’re working with the Department of Energy on another path – hydrogen fuel cells, which combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity and heat, with water as a byproduct

There are some big technological and infrastructure hurdles to be solved, but the progress is amazing. And so is the prize: a battery that powers 1,000 miles on a single charge.

The key to continuing the incredible progress of the past decade is collaboration.

Every accomplishment of the past and future can be credited to the coming together of smart, creative and committed energy and transportation stakeholders. Government, fleet operators and OEMs coalesce in an innovation ecosystem.

And like any ecosystem, to stay healthy, we must continue to evolve. To do that, we must see above and beyond the unpredictability of petroleum prices.

We have an incredible opportunity. By working together to complete our unfinished business, we can create a stronger, more efficient industry. In the process, we can also create a cleaner, healthier world. goldbrown2


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Carlton Rose is President of Global Fleet Maintenance and Engineering at UPS.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.