How Alternative Fuels Impact Vehicle Routing
As we transition to a future powered by alternative fuels, we must consider the changes this shift brings to vehicle routing. Factors such as the availability of refueling or recharging stations, refueling and recharging times, and the effects of weather and climate on vehicle performance will become significant considerations. While this shift is positive in terms of lowering carbon emissions, these changes present challenges that did not previously affect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Planning for Infrastructure Availability
The accessibility and distribution of alternative fueling stations will influence route planning in various ways. Currently, the infrastructure for H2 and CNG is centered mainly around production sites and large transportation depots, which in the short term limits accessibility. Similarly, the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs) is still developing. Fortunately, EVs offer more flexibility, and businesses can install EV charging stations in more widespread locations, including depots and warehouses they own.
The availability of fuel makes route planning a more strategic process. Vehicles operating on alternative fuels will likely need to use paths with the necessary infrastructure, which could mean a shift from the traditional delivery models.
Additionally, the performance characteristics of EVs differ from ICE vehicles. Where traditional ICE vehicles operate best at consistent highway speeds, EVs are more effective at slower speeds and in stop-and-go traffic. These different characteristics may significantly impact route selection.
Weather and Climate Factors
Alternative fuel vehicles, notably electric, are susceptible to weather conditions and climate factors, influencing their performance and consequently affecting route planning. Most notably, cold weather can decrease the range of electric vehicles as the batteries provide propulsion and heating power. In freezing temperatures, EVs may need to be warmed up while charging, necessitating thorough planning and possible route adjustments.
Unfortunately, high temperatures can also impact EV performance, though usually to a lesser extent than cold weather. Further still, alternative fuels like hydrogen and compressed natural gas show less sensitivity to extreme temperatures, but severe weather events affecting production facilities or transport routes may affect availability in unpredictable ways.
Any alternative fuel routing strategy must account for these climate factors and weather conditions. In many cases, routes often need to be adjusted to ensure these vehicles achieve maximum efficiency and reliability.
One major shift introduced when adopting alternative fuel vehicles—especially EVs—is the increased downtime for refueling or recharging. Even with the fastest charging stations available, electric vehicles still take longer to recharge than a conventional fuel tank takes to fill. Although charging times will steadily decrease with technological advancements, businesses must plan for this time.
To successfully navigate this challenge, businesses must strategically incorporate refueling and recharging into their routing and scheduling, possibly by aligning downtime with driver breaks or non-operational hours. Planning should also utilise company-owned charging infrastructure when available to avoid reliance on public chargers, which may be occupied, out of service, or otherwise unavailable. For these reasons, downtime considerations have become a fundamental aspect of vehicle route planning in the era of alternative fuels, requiring a complete rethinking of traditional practices.
Payloads and Topography
The weight of the vehicle and the elevation changes on routes can also have a significant impact on EV range, and including these factors into your charging times and locations is crucial. Tests have shown that EV’s that carry close to their maximum payload can lose nearly a quarter of their range, showing the importance of including these factors into your route plans