Big Brown Goes Green

United Parcel Service loves brown – from the company’s distinctive brown delivery vehicles to its brown-uniformed employees. But the company also embraces the color green, as in green technologies for operating some of its massive fleet.

According to Mike Herr, UPS corporate environmental affairs manager, UPS operates one of the largest private fleets of clean-fuel vehicles in the country. The company currently runs 967 CNG package cars, 10 LNG tractors and 13 electric minivans in its U.S. operations. UPS also runs about 800 propane-powered vehicles in Canada and Mexico. A company slogan proclaims, “The greenest trucks on the road are painted brown.” These clean-fuel vehicles represent a small fraction of the UPS fleet of more than 60,000 package cars and 22,000 tractors in the United States.

Most of UPS’ alternative-fuel vehicles operate in areas designated as non-attainment areas by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such as the Los Angeles Basin, where the company runs 123 CNG package cars, the LNG tractors and electric minivans. According to the company, its CNG package cars produce 95 percent lower particulate emissions, 75 percent lower carbon monoxide emissions and 49 percent lower nitrogen oxides emissions than diesel-powered vehicles. “The biggest advantage of the clean-fuel fleet is cutting emissions,” Herr said.

The electric motor under the hood of a UPS minivan.

But these cuts have not come without some problems, Herr said. He listed fueling stations, limited range and high cost as key issues UPS faced when converting some of its fleet to clean fuels.

“Fueling stations have been our biggest problem” with the alternative fuels, he said. “Unlike gasoline or diesel, where you have a fueling station on every corner, we don’t have that with [alternative fuels].”

Since the vast majority of UPS vehicles return to a home terminal each night, the fueling issue has been easier to tackle, but it carries a cost. Herr said it costs from $250,000 to $500,000 to build a CNG or LNG fueling station. These are in addition to the 800 diesel fueling facilities the company owns.

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The LNG-powered Mack highway tractors the company uses have a range of about 480 miles on two 150-gallon tanks, Herr said. Most of the highway routes are “meet” routes. The LNG engines put out about 350 horsepower compared to 385 horsepower for the same-sized diesel engine. They also lose about 5 to 6 mph going up grades, but in the three months the first truck has been running, the company has reported no operational problems.

A third issue for UPS’ green fleet is that alternative-fuel engines cost more than gasoline or diesel engines.

Despite these problems, UPS remains committed to exploring new technologies, Herr said. “We want to be a good corporate citizen,” he explained. UPS also plans to explore fuel cell-powered vehicles and biodiesel fuels. “We think there are some really promising technologies there,” Herr said about biodiesel, especially since biodiesel fuels do not require engine conversions.