Postal Service testing hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle
The U.S. Postal Service recently announced that it intends to replace its fleet of 195,000 neighborhood vehicles with new environmentally friendly models that are less dependent on petroleum-based fuel sources, when the right technology is available. The announcement was made during a ceremony in Irvine, Calif., in which General Motors presented a Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicle to the Postal Service for testing as part of GM’s “Project Driveway.”
“We are looking for a vehicle that operates from a fuel source that reduces – or eliminates – our dependence on petroleum products, that is good for the environment, good for our customers and good for the Postal Service,” said Walter O’Tormey, vice president, engineering.
There is plenty of financial incentive for the Postal Service to explore its green options: It only takes a 1-cent increase in the cost of a gallon of fuel to add $8 million annually to the agency’s expenses. The agency’s fuel costs last year were $1.7 billion and are expected to increase this year by $600 million, according to the Postal Service.
As part of “Project Driveway,” GM is putting 100 Equinox fuel-cell vehicles in the hands of customers to help the company understand what it will take to bring larger numbers of fuel-cell vehicles to customers around the world. So far, GM has launched test vehicles in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C., and plans to launch more test vehicles later this year in Europe and Asia.
GM will provide the maintenance, fuel and service of the vehicle as the Postal Service puts the vehicle through its paces on mail-delivery routes. Letter carriers will fuel the vehicle themselves at the University of California at Irvine hydrogen fueling station operated by the National Fuel Cell Research Center. The station is certified for 700 bar fueling and is being used by other Project Driveway participants, according to GM.
“We are very encouraged by GM’s fuel-cell technology,” O’Tormey said. “We also want to explore other options, such as hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid and other green vehicles that will help us continue to provide our customers with reliable service while protecting the environment.”
Postal Service has been testing fuel-cell technology since 2004
A hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle is twice as efficient as an internal combustion engine and emits only water vapor, which doesn’t harm the environment. Hydrogen’s greatest advantage as a fuel is that it can be made in many ways using both traditional and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass energy.
The U.S. Postal Service began driving a GM HydroGen3 fuel-cell vehicle in 2004 in the Northern Virginia area. In 2006, a HydroGen3 spent a year delivering mail in Irvine. Both test-drive programs ended in 2007. The programs helped GM learn about how fuel-cell vehicles operate under demanding conditions, which helped the company develop the fleet of Equinoxes, according to GM.
“The Postal Service has been an invaluable partner, and they put our fuel-cell vehicles through some tough daily workouts,” said Mary Beth Stanek, director of energy and environmental policy and commercialization at GM. “We are gaining valuable insight on how these vehicles perform in demanding, real-world situations. By participating in Project Driveway, the Postal Service also is demonstrating the need to develop a hydrogen infrastructure to support fueling these vehicles.”
Overall, the Postal Service has 220,000 vehicles – the world’s largest civilian fleet, according to the agency. The Postal Service noted that it leads the federal government in the number of alternate-fuel vehicles in use. More than 43,000 of its vehicles can operate on hybrid electric, electric, compressed natural gas, liquid propane gas, ethanol (E85), biodiesel or hydrogen fuel-cell technology, according to the agency.