USPS, parcel carriers turn to alternative fuel vehicles

Reflecting rising gas prices and environmental concerns, the US Postal Service and some package delivery companies are testing alternative fuel vehicles.

Last week, the USPS announced that it will test a fourth-generation, hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell SUV on delivery routes in Irvine, CA. The US Department of Energy is paying the $240,000 lease for the vehicle, while the USPS will cover the cost of refueling, operations and maintenance.

The USPS already uses more than 43,000 alternative fuel vehicles, most of which are E-85 ethanol vehicles, according to Walter O’Tormey, VP of engineering for the USPS. He said that rising fuel costs will cost the USPS $600 million more for fuel this year than last. “With our current delivery vehicles, when you look at an average route, you’re getting maybe 12 miles per gallon,” while the agency is “look­ing to get 40 to 50 miles per gallon” with the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, he said.

The USPS is not the only mail delivery company exploring alternative fuel vehicles. UPS uses more than 1,500 of them, including electric, hybrid electric, propane, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas vehicles.

In 2007, UPS deployed 50 hybrid elec­tric vehicles (HEV) and just ordered an additional 200 to be deployed in 2009, according to Elizabeth Rasberry, a UPS spokesperson. “We have also tested hybrid hydraulic and fuel cell vehicles,” she added.

FedEx operates a 170-vehicle fleet of commercial hybrid trucks in North America. Its hybrid project began in 2000 through a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, according to a FedEx spokesperson.

DHL is also testing some prototype hybrid vehicles, said Richard Gibbs, PR and public affairs manager for the shipping company.

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