Rapid Adoption of Clean Transportation Drives Investor Funding

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is poised for a massive transformation of its vehicles to enhance the fleet’s friendliness toward the environment.

Thomas Day, the USPS’s Chief Sustainability Officer, revealed at the Sustain Summit in Newport Beach, CA., that the company will invest $7 billion over the next seven to 10 years to replace its delivery vehicle fleet with 160,000 new vehicles considered more “environmentally friendly.”

The USPS is now speaking with peers from the German Post, the French Post, and the Royal Mail to learn how those groups successfully transformed their fleets in recent years, he added.

Investors are noticing an overall larger shift towards cleaner transportation.

Global venture investing in the transportation sector quadrupled in 2014 to $6 billion, according to the Cleantech Group.  This funding growth was mainly driven by investments in ride-sharing apps including Uber ($3B), Didi Dache ($700M), Grab Taxi ($269M) BlaBlaCar ($100M), and Yongche ($100M).

Other clean transportation areas are gaining smart venture capital investors’ attention too.

At last month’s Bloomberg’s Future of Energy Summit in New York venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers voiced its bullishness regarding the clean transportation sector. Brook Porter, a partner in the KPCB Green Growth Fund, declared that buses are set to be the first transportation sector to go entirely electric.  Kleiner has invested in Chargepoint (electric vehicle charging stations) Uber (ride sharing), and Proterra (electric buses.)

Clean Transportation Adoption

The number of zero-emission buses in the U.S. is on track to double in the next year. It should account for 20 percent of the transit bus market by 2030, Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART, told National Geographic. The company focuses on accelerating clean transportation by launching demonstration projects, he added. “We’re starting to see a breakout point,” he said.

More than 35% of U.S. public buses use alternative fuels or hybrid technology, according to the American Public Transportation Association. This compares to 1 percent in 2005. Buses considered partly electric made up 17 percent of the fleet in 2014.

Proterra, named a 2015 Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer, is building its second electric bus plant in California to meet growing demand.  It’s doing this by leveraging a $3 million grant from The California Energy Commission, the Wall Street Journal reported.  In February it launched new extended-range buses capable of traveling up to 180 miles between charges.

The L.A. County’s Foothill Transit group recently ordered an additional 13 electric buses from Proterra, bringing to its total to 30. Proterra raised more than $150 million in venture capital funding and has planned for a public offering in two years, according to the Journal.

Boston-based XL Hybrids, which develops hybrid electric systems, doubled its customer base during the past six months. It landed contracts with Coca-Cola and other corporate fleets, CEO Todd Hynes told the Journal.  Founded in 2008, the company has since raised more than $11 million in funding.

This month, Long Beach Transit, which serves the Los Angeles metropolitan area, announced an order of 10 BYD Motors electric buses, with an option to buy up to 50 more, according to Xinhua.  China-based BYD Motors, which received a $230 million investment from Warren Buffett in 2008, recently opened two factories in California.

BYD’s electric vehicles are marketed in more than 30 countries and regions, and the company sold more than 20,000 buses in China last year, making up 28% of its total vehicle sales.  China, which has subsidized electric vehicles since 2010, last year said it plans to raise these subsidies.  BYD has made more electric buses—including about 5,200 worldwide—than any manufacturer, according to National Geographic.

The University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine)’s transit system now utilizes the first zero-emission fuel cell bus, which Ballard Power Systems developed.

And Maryland’s Montgomery County is installing electric-vehicle charging stations in 11 public parking garages using EV charging systems developed by ChargePoint, which received venture capital funding to the tune of $114 million, including a $25 million Series E funding in 2014.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Renewable Fuels

Compressed natural gas (CNG) trucking fleets is a major focus for GSV Sustainability Partners, founder and long-time cleantech VC Tom Cain said.  GSV pioneers a new model meant to drive sustainability adoption.  It acquires sustainability infrastructure and equipment, and offers both as a fee-based service to corporate end users.

“We’ve got fleets of compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks, which GSVSP owns on behalf of customers and shippers,” Cain told CleanTechIQ, noting that the market potential of trucking fleets is huge. “Each of these trucks is about $200,000, and there are about 3 billion of them out there so the amount of funding you can put to work in transportation is just enormous.”

Due to purported customer demand, Ford will offer a compressed natural gas (CNG) version of the 2016 Ford F-150 pickup truck for fleets this summer.  It was certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board and is said to be the only light-duty pickup truck capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane. Ford will commence deliveries this winter, according to the company.

Last week, UPS announced the purchase of renewable natural gas for its delivery vehicle fleet from Clean Energy Fuels Corp.  It also voiced plans to expand its use of natural gas in its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet. CLNE said that UPS’s move “sends a clear message that RNG is a viable, cost-effective alternative to traditional diesel.”

Audi reportedly created a new “carbon neutral diesel fuel” made entirely out of carbon dioxide, water and renewable energy, which is powering the Audi A8.  The German car manufacturer set up a synthetic diesel pilot production plant in Dresden operated by Sunfire, a German pioneer in reversible electrolysis and fuel cell technology.

Founded in 2010, Sunfire raised $18.8 million in venture capital funding from investors including Bilfinger Venture Capital, Electranova Capital, Total Energy Ventures, and KfW.  It raised a $9 million Series B venture funding round in 2014.

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