Project: Energetics Evaluates Vehicle Fuels Technologies for Winter Operations Fleets

Energetics supported Clear Roads, a national research consortium seeking to improve the safety and efficiency of U.S. transportation through improved maintenance. The collaboration, which includes 38 state departments of transportation (DOTs), evaluates materials, equipment, and methods in real-world conditions. Energetics and project partner Matrix Consulting Group completed a project titled “Evaluation of Electric Vehicle Technologies and Alternative Fuels for Winter Operations.” The final report and accompanying webinar are available on the Clear Roads website, and two related podcasts were also issued.

The goal of the project was to provide agencies that rely on diesel-powered winter maintenance fleets (comprising largely heavier trucks such as snowplows and salt spreaders) with an understanding of the vehicle technologies available. The report and webinar discuss benefits and possible operational impacts that could result from transitioning to a fleet powered by electric or other alternative fuels, including natural gas, propane, hydrogen fuel cells, and renewable fuels.

Energetics’ portion of the project was led by Russ Owens, program manager of the Technology Deployment, Evaluation, and Fleet Services group. We provided fleet experience and expertise in alternative fuel technology options. Energetics identified and interviewed state DOT and municipal department of public works fleets that use, or have used, alternative fuels, as well as manufacturers of alternative fuel vehicles, engines, fueling systems, and fuel producers. The goal was to understand the motivators, benefits, and challenges for fleets that adopt alternative fuels.

Few state DOT winter road maintenance fleets use alternative fuels. These winter road maintenance vehicles have difficult duty cycles during winter weather events, with long hours and high power requirements. Fast refueling is needed to keep trucks on the road. Also, many DOT depots are in remote locations, limiting access to reliable, high-power electricity and other fuels.

However, fleets are increasingly incorporating biodiesel blends, up to B100. Challenges associated with other sources are being addressed, with some options in early production (e.g., electric and renewable fuels), some expected in the near term (e.g., hydrogen internal combustion engines), and some in development (e.g., hydrogen fuel cells).

The project was featured on the “SICOP (Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program) Talks Winter Ops” podcast (SICOP is an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials program). The first episode (#70) was released to the SICOP podcast site in mid-April of 2023, and the second (#71) went live in early May.

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