Clean Cities is a national effort from the federal Department of Energy aimed at reducing the country’s petroleum dependency, particularly on foreign oil. Stakeholders gathered in Indiana this week for a summit on the present and future of alternative fuel technology. The highlight was a day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 2011 Clean Cities Summit was originally slated for Chicago. But Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition executive director Kellie Walsh found a way to bring it to the Hoosier state. The key, she says, was the Day at the Track.
“We were able to steal it away from Chicago,” she said, “because we added the vehicle displays, the ride-and-drives, the expos. We had Lyn St. James and everyone here…it’s just been amazing.”
Escorted by police, a group of alternative fuel technology vehicles, including electric cars, compressed natural gas vans, hybrid buses and propane-powered trucks made their way from a downtown Indianapolis conference center to the track. Roush Clean Tech Vice President Todd Mouw drove a Ford F-250 pickup powered entirely by propane. He says propane is the third-most common engine fuel in the world and something the U.S. needs to invest in.
“I say the word – we’re a stupid country,” he said, “but ultimately oil’s been so cheap so we’ve not been forced to look for alternatives, but you know it’s domestic, it’s clean, it’s available, it’s abundant. It’s easily integrated into vehicles like the one we’re sitting in today. It’s the best kept transportation secret.”
The Day at the Track featured an expo with booths from alternative fuel producers including, among others American Honda. Consultant Elizabeth Munger talked about the Honda Civic Natural Gas, a standard Civic running entirely on natural gas, that’s manufactured in Greensburg.
“As people have gotten more interested in natural gas,” she said, “and it’s become much more economical with rising gasoline prices and there’s been a greater awareness of the environmental benefits of using natural gas, it’s become a really popular car.”
The biggest obstacle to compressed natural gas consumer vehicles becoming more widespread is refueling. The infrastructure for CNG fueling is much more expensive than gas, propane or electric. But Munger says greatly expanding CNG cars isn’t the point:
“We’re not looking at this as a car that we expect to be in everybody’s driveway,” she said.”
And that’s a common refrain throughout the Clean Cities summit. As Walsh says, there’s no single solution.
“You know,” she said, “there’s several alternative fuels and technologies out there. There is no one silver bullet; there’s a lot of silver BB’s and all of those BB’s work to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
The Clean Cities program works with both private and public groups to help them find the best solution for their situation. In Indiana, for example, Clean Cities helped the state department of transportation build propane-fueling stations to fuel the roughly 700 propane-powered vehicles now in the INDOT fleet.
One of the ways Clean Cities wanted to show off the various technologies was its ride-and-drive feature at the Day at the Track. Anyone at the summit could test-drive various alternative fuel vehicles around the infield at the Motor Speedway.
Test driving a THINK City, a Norwegian-made electric car, the only real difference you can feel from a standard, gas-powered car is the sound…the electric car is almost completely silent.
Allan Griffin is from Humble-Texas and is looking to buy a few electric cars for the school district. After taking a drive in one, he’s sold.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Totally quiet, plenty of pickup. It would be a great choice for a small plumber or electrician.”
And that’s maybe the ultimate point of the summit…using the momentum from current projects and technologies to continue to push for fuel independence, getting consumers, businesses and governments invested in the process.