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A beer and beverage distributor will put Volvo's electric trucks to the acid test in New York City traffic (photo courtesy of Manhattan Beer Distributors).

Clean Transport

NYC Beer Distributor Spikes CNG Fleet With Volvo Electric Trucks

The New York company Manhattan Beer Distributors will put five Volvo electric trucks to the acid test in New York City traffic, with an assist from AMPLY power.

Whelp, that was fast. Compressed natural gas was supposed to be the clean fuel of the future, but now electric trucks are barreling into CNG territory. The latest example is an especially interesting one because it combines Volvo Trucks North America with the EV charging firm AMPLY Power to provide a beer distributor in New York City with the triple whammy of maximum uptime, cost savings, and reduced emissions from the local power grid.

Electric Trucks Edge Into CNG Territory In NYC

Fleet managers began converting from diesel to CNG many years ago, only to fall out of the global warming frying pan and into the fire. Tailpipe emissions are lower for CNG vehicles, but the natural gas supply chain pushes significant amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the air, from drilling site emissions on through transportation, storage, and distribution. That’s on top of safety hazards and local impacts on air quality and water resources related to extraction and waste disposal.

As public awareness over the methane problem grows, fleet managers are looking for better solutions, and apparently the fleet manager over at Manhattan Beer Distributors in New York City is one of them.

Our friends over at Supply Chain World note that MBD has made some huge investments in both CNG trucks and CNG fuel stations since 1999, including Volvo CNG trucks. Aside from cleaner tailpipe emissions, the company has also seemed pretty happy with the cost savings over diesel.

Nevertheless, MBD seems ready to take the plunge into electric trucks. Last month the company welcomed five new Class 8 Volvo VNR electric trucks into its lineup.

Secret Weapon For Electric Trucks: AMPLY Power

Okay, so five electric trucks is pretty small potatoes, considering that MBD owns a fleet of hundreds of trucks, and quite a few of them are CNG trucks.

However, as Supply Chain World points out, ferrying beer and other beverages around New York City is a complicated endeavor that requires pinpoint timing. That means the system for charging electric trucks has to be tailored around the distribution schedule. That’s going to be tricky, and apparently the order of five trucks is meant as a testing ground.

The startup AMPLY Power is the electric vehicle charging firm tasked with managing MBD’s charging system. The firm popped up on the CleanTechnica radar just a couple of years ago and it has already established a solid reputation for its software management system, which squeezes the best time-of-day rates out of the local grid.

AMPLY also provides a full EV charging infrastructure package, and a recent partnership with the non-profit firm WattTime provides the system with data-driven tools to maximize the use of clean power on the grid.

The New York City Traffic Test

MBD’s five new electric trucks will be put to the test with heavy payloads on routes with return-to-base requirements. That dovetails with a battery range of 150 miles and a 70-minute timeclock for an 80% charge, but it remains to be seen if the trucks can get the job done under real-world traffic conditions in New York City.

The company’s fleet manager, Juan Corcino, has high hopes.

“We are pleased to have AMPLY Power managing the charging operations for our new electric trucks and ensuring our deployment of EVs is seamless and cost-effective,” he said. “As a leader in sustainable transportation for New York, we have long focused on minimizing the environmental footprint of our operations, and AMPLY’s charge management services help us further these goals cost-effectively.”

If Electric Trucks Save Big Bucks, CNG Goes Down Drain

If you caught that thing about cost-effectively, that’s the key to the whole thing right there. Electric trucks are already gaining a reputation for saving money compared to diesel over the long term due to savings on fuel as well as maintenance and repair. Now the big battle is between CNG stakeholders and electric vehicle advocates. If the MBD – AMPLY mashup is a bottom line success, that pretty much settles the argument.

As a CNG truck maker that also makes electric trucks, Volvo is caught in the middle. However, the company has just thrown down a hint that it is leaning over to the electric side.

Earlier today, Volvo Trucks North America and AMPLY made it clear that the MBD transaction is not a one-off.

The two companies announced that further collaborations on additional electric truck-plus-charging infrastructure deals are in the works.

Amply has also been working with the electric vehicle company BYD Motors, so stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, What About Biogas?

Yes, what about it? Renewable natural gas is beginning to emerge as an alternative source for CNG and liquid natural gas vehicles. Until the supply ramps up, though, fleet managers that invest in CNG or LNG vehicles will have to continue relying on fossil gas.

That’s good news for natural gas stakeholders, who are beginning to get squeezed out of the power generation market and the buildings market, too.

However, the double whammy of fleet electrification and renewable natural gas is beginning to slam the door shut.

Those who remain unconvinced about renewable natural gas should take a closer look at the landfill gas area. After all, there are a lot of landfills in the world, and they emit a lot of methane, and all that gas has to go somewhere.

The conventional practice is to flare it, which burns off the methane but releases carbon dioxide. Putting it to use in trucks and other vehicles seems like a more sustainable solution, so if you have any thoughts leave us a note in the comment thread.

As for cost-effectiveness, if and when electric trucks are proven to beat CNG on both cost and performance, that doesn’t mean the end of the landfill gas market. In fact, things seem to be just getting started.  L’Oreal USA, for example, includes renewable natural gas from landfills as a significant element in its bar-setting US carbon neutrality strategy, for space and water heating in its facilities.

Industrial customers are also beginning to introduce landfill gas directly for process heat, and if landfill gas ever runs out, there’s always municipal wastewater treatment plants and livestock operations.

More Electric Trucks On The Way

Though beverage distributors in New York may have to tread cautiously into the EV area while fighting traffic and timetables, other types of fleets are already primed for the electric vehicle transition.

Last year, for example, the Exelon utility ComEd launched a new plan to put thousands of new electric vehicles on the streets, and the green investor firm Ceres launched a new coalition to promote fleet electrification throughout the US.

In another development of interest, pressure is mounting for the US Postal Service to invest in a new fleet of electric vehicles, despite a controversial contract with the truck maker Oshkosh Corporation — or perhaps because of it. That should be interesting, considering that the Postal Service has also been dipping a toe in the CNG waters.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey

Photo (screenshot): via Manhattan Beer Distributors.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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