Future Fleet Forum 2018: Large-scale advanced-propulsion systems by Michael G Britt, MG Britt Consulting

Published:  10 March, 2018

‘No one is going to go broke going green,’ said Mike Britt, who worked at UPS for 31 years before setting up a consulting business last year, in his presentation on advanced-propulsion systems. But if manufacturers are going to make a profit from sustainable vehicles they need economies of scale, so there need to be changes on the demand side. 

Mike’s final seven years at UPS were spent as global chief of alternative fuel engineering, and he has worked on projects involving everything from CNG and LPG to propane, electric, fuel cells, and hybridisation. He believes each technology has its place, depending on the application, as a stepping stone to the final goal: zero tail-pipe emissions and an energy system that is renewable in every sense.

But how to get there? Firstly, Mike said that it is imperative to understand what it is you do and what you need, and select the APS that works for you. Secondly, don’t wait for government – take the lead and make sustainability a core value of your organisation. Only afterwards focus on ROI. It is also important to understand your customer base, their views and requirements.

Mike also called for the sector to become involved in legislative decision-making. This includes funding – ‘municipalities need to push for this to be made available in order for the business community to achieve the economies of scale it needs to move forward on these technologies’ – and regulations. ‘We need to remind the people making the laws that manufacturers need time to develop equipment that actually works.’

Finally, he told delegates that achievements must be shouted about outside the corporate community. Good news stories need to reach the public.

There are incentives and opportunities to move forward on emissions reduction. In the EU, 75% of all freight moves by truck. ‘That is a significant reason to make trucks cleaner, more efficient, and more renewable.’ And as the volume and value of freight goes up, so will ROI. ‘We can’t let that money be absorbed into profitability; we need to invest it back into emissions reduction. Trucking companies will have more money so they need to invest in new technology platforms, automation, APS, etc, to reduce emissions and congestion.’

If the endgame is zero emissions, however, we are a long way off yet. But, says Mike, there are bridging technologies that can help us get there – saving carbon is saving carbon, after all.

In the US, the major APS offering significant carbon reduction are CNG and LPG. ‘This is where we need to start to focus. The planet has plenty of renewable natural gas, not only for internal combustion engines but also for fuel cells.’ Equally, propane is much cleaner than petrol or diesel and where it is plentiful, it makes no sense not to use it. Another bridging technology for electric is fuel cell EVs and hybrid EVs, which can run from renewable hydrogen and can work well for larger trucks.

Mike gave examples of bridging technologies already in use, from hydrid electric vehicles designed to reduce emissions in congested areas to drone delivery projects and even a drone delivery helicopter. ‘I believe there will be quite a bit of activity around delivery systems. We need to think differently, and congestion mitigation is a big deal that needs attention.’

Mike acknowledged that many current solutions are not yet mainstream enough to move the technology forward. However, he also highlighted the organisations, such as UK Innovate, offering grants and funding that can help finance R&D to overcome engineering challenges and commercialise technology.

‘It’s important for legislators to know these schemes are working, and that we need them until we reach zero emissions. That’s why it is important to publicise our achievements.’ 

However, it’s also important to create the right conditions within an organisation to support sustainability. Number one is to budget for it, and dedicate expert resources and the proper engineering set up to develop solutions. It is equally important to recognise dead-end projects, learn from them and move on quickly.

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