United Parcel Services (UPS) is on target to have one million miles (1.6 million kilometres) of its global business driven by alternative fuel technology vehicles by 2017.


“We understand the importance of being stewards within our industry and the communities we serve, and how our integration of new technologies can improve the economies of scale so that others can afford these alternative fuel technologies as well,” says Mike Britt, UPS Director of Maintenance and Engineering for International Operations. “We want everyone to be driving cleaner energy vehicles.”

A big part of the goal will be achieved by deploying 1,000 new liquified natural gas (LNG) medium-haul trucks in the United States over the next year. “LNG tractors are the best at both fuel mileage and covering long distances,” Mr. Britt says. The Canadian fleet has already gone through substantial renewal with 830 of the 2,500 package delivery trucks now running on propane instead of diesel. UPS plans to intro duce an additional 116 propane trucks as new purchases or engine upgrades over the next two years.

Finding the most efficient way to deliver packages has been the UPS approach since the company’s founding in 1907, according to Mr. Britt. “UPS was trying out electric vehicles and propane vehicles in the 1920s and ’30s, and various internal combustion engines during 1950s and ’60s,” he notes. “We started testing compressed natural gas (CNG) in the ’80s, liquified natural gas in the ’90s, then hydraulic hybrid electric vehicles along with LNG, CNG and propane deployment in the new millennium.”

All of these cleaner fuel alternatives are now used somewhere within UPS’ global operations, along with ethanol and bio-methane gas in Europe. Weather, terrain, population density, traffic congestion and refueling infrastructure all play a part in determining the kind of vehi cles and energy used. “We have a large propane fleet in Toronto, for example, where vehicles do 160 to 170 kilometres a day and it’s worth investing in propane vehicles and infrastructure,” Mr. Britt says. “On the other hand, we have some routes in New York City that only do seven or eight miles (12 to 13 km) a day and that low-duty cycle doesn’t warrant, say, a $175,000 investment in an electric vehicle.” Hybrid vehicles are best for regions with a lot of stop and go, such as downtown Atlanta and Baltimore, or Laguna Hills, Calif. “It doesn’t make sense to have them in Palm Springs, for example, where it’s typically 20 miles (32 km) between deliveries,” Mr. Britt says.

A lack of infrastructure limits choice in some cases. For example, there are virtually no LNG refueling stations in Canada. “We buy our LNG engines from Westport Innovations in Vancouver, B.C., but there isn’t even an LNG station there,” Mr. Britt notes. “We only use LNG for our heavy-duty trucks. In the United States, there are enough of them to run our own fueling stations, but the Canadian fleet is much smaller and a lot more spread out.”

UPS is constantly looking for new alternatives and has been investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology since the 1990s. “We’re contin uing to look at ways to improve electric drive to make it less cost-prohibitive,” Mr. Britt says. “We’re also looking at expanding the range for compressed natural gas for our heavy vehicles by looking at advanced CNG tanks. “Of course, we believe the greenest mile is the one never driven,” he adds. “So we’re always looking for the most direct route, efficient scheduling, and to fit as many packages as possible on a truck so that we can have fewer vehicles on the road.”