Much of the attention on global warming has been focused on invisible sources, namely carbon dioxide. However, a new report underscores the significant role that ordinary soot, also known as particulate emissions or black carbon, has been playing in climate change. The good news is that black carbon only persists in the atmosphere for a matter or weeks rather than years, so a serious effort to target black carbon could have an immediate, significant effect on global warming management.
One of those efforts is the Obama Administration’s National Clean Fleets program, which has enlisted Verizon along with some of the nation’s largest fleet owners to transition out of diesel-powered vehicles, and that’s where a new partnership between VIA Motors and Verizon comes in.
The new van was developed by VIA Motors to fit Verizon’s particular needs, so it may not be a universal solution. However, the overall concept does have wide application among delivery and maintenance fleets that make short runs in urban areas, which is the focus of the Clean Fleets program (it’s part of a broader EPA program to reduce the concentration of particulate emissions in cities, called Clean Cities).
The basic idea behind the VIA cargo van is similar to the Chevy Volt, which can run exclusively on electric power but also comes with a gas tank, giving it an extended range of several hundred miles. Like the Volt, the new van is equipped with an onboard generator so that even when liquid fuel is in use, the car is always running on an electric powertrain.
Depending on the needs of the drivers and their ability to plan and manage routes efficiently, the liquid fuel is a security cushion that is called into play rarely, if ever.
Generally, VIA Motors’s E-REV powertrain can enable any sport utility or light truck to go about 40 miles exclusively on electricity, or about 400 miles on a full tank of fuel. The equivalent for a day’s worth of local driving is about 100 mpg.
The vehicle’s advanced lithium-ion battery can be recharged from a conventional 110 volt household outlet, providing fleet managers with the option of having employees take their vehicles home at night, rather than making an extra trip to a central garage.
The new van also has an energy exporting capability, also known as vehicle-to-grid, in which the EV battery functions as a mobile energy storage device that can provide power for purposes other than running the vehicle. In the case of Verizon, that would enable the van to serve as a clean, practically noiseless power source for fieldwork and emergency response, using electric power rather than a diesel generator.
For the new van, VIA developed a dashboard that sports a removable tablet as an information interface (voice-dependent, to reduce distractions), enabling the driver to plan more effectively for routing and fuel optimization. The vehicle analytics also include a diagnostic component to spot maintenance issues more quickly.
Big Bottom Line Savings for Electric Vehicles
All in all, VIA expects the Verizon vans to operate exclusively on electric power during most of the days they are in use, saving about 750 gallons of petroleum fuel annually per vehicle. That represents a fuel economy improvement of up to 300 percent, given Verizon’s fleet requirements.
As for the cost, in some states the overnight charge would come out to as little as $1.00 per day.
Black Carbon Reduction and Electric Vehicles
As a black carbon reduction measure electric vehicles are only as good as their power source, and right now the power mix in the U.S. is still heavily dependent on coal. Biomass-fired power plants and biofuels can also be significant sources of black carbon, without appropriate pollution controls.
The ultimate solution is to use emission-free wind, solar and other emission-free energy sources to charge electric vehicles. That transition is rapidly occurring in the U.S. especially in regards to wind power, which just last year surpassed both coal and natural gas for new installed capacity.
Small Steps to a Black Carbon Solution
In terms of the financial wherewithal to transition to cleaner energy practices, the black carbon problem involves perhaps one of the most inclusive solutions on a global level.
Electric vehicles are far beyond the reach of millions of households in developed countries, let alone in undeveloped world regions, but cleaner vehicles are only part of the solution.
Last Secretary of State Hilary Clinton launched a broad international effort to reduce black carbon along with methane and hydrofluorocarbons, called the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, which is focused particularly on providing cleaner alternatives to the primitive, open-flame cookstoves in widespread use throughout undeveloped countries.
Aside from contributing a significant amount to black carbon emissions, indoor air pollution from poorly ventilated cookstoves is linked to poor health outcomes and the soot from primitive cookstoves can inhibit local agricultural productivity. In addition, depending on the kind of fuel used, fuel-gathering can result the degradation of the local environment, with a consequent ripple effect on public health and economic activity.
In that regard, despite the wide gulf in cost between electric vehicles and cleaner cookstoves, the result of transitioning to new technology and new practices will not only consist in the better management of global warming emissions, but also an improvement in local environmental quality, public health and economic viability.
Image: VIA Motors electric drive train, courtesy of VIA Motors.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.