USPS puts green on the road

Monday - 10/4/2010, 9:08am EDT

Sam Pulcrano, VP of sustainability, USPS

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The Postal Service is working on a project to convert some of those mail trucks you see every day in neighborhoods into all-electric, gas-saving machines.

They have more than a hundred years of experience testing out new technologies. The first electric vehicle joined the Postal Service fleet in 1899, after proving to be more efficient than a horse and buggy.

Sam Pulcrano is vice president for sustainability at the Postal Service told Federal News Radio about the current project.

Pulcrano said there are five different contractors, working on five different electric-based demonstration vehicles, "and we'll be testing those sometime in the very near future." Pushed about the timeline, Pulcrano said he expects testing to begin before the end of the year.

The alternatives being considered, said Pulcrano, are CNG (compressed natural gas,) ethanol, electric and propane, "but the reality is there is no infrastructure for most of them across the United States, so we primarily use them in pockets. We're even testing hydrogen fuel cells."

The overall goal is to reduce petroleum use by 20% in the next five years. While that goal seems achievable, Pulcrano said there are some major obstacles to overcome.

The fact remains there's not enough of these fuels available and there's not enough infrastructure to convert the entire fleet. The other factor of course is to change a fleet of our size, we're talking about 160 to 165,000 vehicles - that's the white van you see in your neighborhood every day.... That's a very expensive proposition. And to convert to an electric vehicle in today's market due to the cost of the batteries would probably double as opposed to buying another gasoline fueled fleet.

With a fleet of about 44,000 of different types of alternative fuel vehicles already in use, the USPS would like to extend the current fleet for a few more years, said Pulcrano, "until some of these other alternatives mature."