Trucking's love affair with diesel goes deep. For decades, it has not only filled our fuel tanks, it has seeped into our history, our language, even our hearts. Say, “He has diesel in his veins,” and anyone in the industry will understand the compliment given — trucking is in his blood, he's an insider, a lifer, a pro.
The pure pervasiveness of diesel has made it difficult to take new alternatives seriously. Technologies such as fuel cells, electric hybrid engines, and even CNG, LNG and biodiesel have seemed like interlopers, summer flings maybe, but not real contenders for our industry's affections.
Recently, however, there have been numerous advances and even breakthroughs in the development of alternative power options. Furthermore, all summer long Congress has been working to assume the role of matchmaker for alternative power technologies, crafting incentive programs and other measures designed to attract trucking (and even automobile drivers) away from our devotion to diesel and gasoline.
There are at least three separate house bills that stand a good chance of being considered by Congress before the August recess — HR 2460, The Comprehensive Energy Research and Technology Act of 2001; HR2511, The Energy Tax Policy Act of 2001; and HR 2587, The Energy Advancement and Conservation Act of 2001.
HR 2460, for example, includes a $200-million program designed to enable states and localities to purchase and service alternative fuel vehicles and to connect them to existing transportation systems. “In the long run, alternative fuel vehicles will obviously have to succeed in the marketplace entirely on their own. But the federal government should be doing more to encourage the development and deployment of alternative vehicles because there are clear public benefits and the technology will develop too slowly without incentives,” noted Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), sponsor of the bill.
While progress on alternative power technologies has been slow to-date, private companies had begun to pick up the developmental pace, even before Congress began to consider financial and other incentives. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., for example, announced in July that it had started operation of a hydrogen production and fueling station in Torrance, CA. According to the company, the station uses solar power to extract hydrogen from water. It will support Honda's fuel cell vehicle development program.
In Kelowna, B.C., Canada, meanwhile, the Dynasty Motorcar Corp. announced that its electric cargo van was in production. According to the company, the two-passenger, five-door van is designed for commercial and light-duty applications and is capable of traveling over 30 miles with a single charge to its six-pack of lead-acid batteries Even dear old diesel's alternative fuel twin, biodiesel, has recently gained ground. Both Nevada and California now boast operating biodiesel fueling stations, one in Sparks and one in the San Francisco Bay area.
There are dozens of other projects also under way, all working to establish a position in the soon-to-be-hot alternative power marketplace. So stand by and prepare to be courted. This may be the best thing that's happened to trucking since, well — diesel.