What's the Alternative?

As chicken-and-egg dilemma challenges growth, alternative fuels try to find a foothold.

By  Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Special Projects Coordinator

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A Clean Finish

Clean Cities, the U.S. Department of Energy program that coordinates local efforts to reduce petroleum use in transportation, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. The program works through forming coalitions—led by a coordinator and composed of stakeholders such as businesses, fuel providers, vehicle fleets, state and local government agencies, and community organizations—that jumpstart alternative-fuel projects, including the deployment of fueling technology, as well as idle-reduction and fuel-economy efforts.

Today, there are nearly 100 coalitions, covering 80% of the U.S. population, which have offset 5 billion gallons of petroleum since 1993. While CNG has garnered the most interest lately, in terms of fuel alternatives Clean Cities plays no favorites.

“There’s interest in an ‘all of the above’ approach for alternative fuels,” says Linda Bluestein, national co-director of Clean Cities, Washington, D.C. “As long as they fit into the requirements of the program, the statutory guidance we were given, we feel communities should be allowed to choose what fits best for them.”

The biggest challenge for the Clean Cities coalitions, says Bluestein, and for those interested in buying and selling alternative fuels, is the enormous amount of outreach and education required to inform local officials, consumers and fleets about their options.

“It may not be that you can go in and sell someone on this in one take,” Bluestein says. “There’s got to be a strategy to make it work. You might end up visiting a fleet 20 times before they make a decision.”

Some of the coalitions’ work has been to “smooth over” local or state policies that create barriers to implementing alternatives.

A Clean Cities coalition can be a helpful ally for marketers looking to introduce alternative fuels because they in many cases have already established a base of public and private allies and funding sources, and have access to educational resources.

“The whole c-store industry has a real history of innovation; they’re good competitors, and we think it’s an exciting development that there’s growing interest from that sector in alternative fuels,” says Bluestein. “For our Clean Cities coalitions, those are good partners to have.” 

Finding a Balance

With the exception of hydrogen, the number of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) on the road far outstrips the number of public fueling locations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Electric charging stations (public only): 6,444
EVs: 57,462

Natural gas
CNG fueling stations: 602
CNG vehicles: 115,863
LNG fueling stations: 33
LNG vehicles: 143,037

Biofuels
E85 stations: 2,344
Biodiesel: 330
Flex-fuel vehicles: 618,506

Liquefied petroleum gas (propane)
Stations: 2,609
LPG vehicles: 270,000

Hydrogen
Vehicles: 0
Stations: 10

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

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