Expanding Community Fuels

Community Fuels is a Stockton-based biofuel producer committed to providing easy access to cleaner fuels and consequently expanding the clean energy industry to strengthen regional economies here in California.

As some of our readers may be aware, the SJVCEO is participating in the Workforce Investment Board Regional Industry Cluster of Opportunities (WIB RICO II) grant to support the Alternative and Renewable Fuel Vehicle (ARFV) Technology program.  The California Energy Commission (CEC), under this ARFV Technology Program, awarded Community Fuels a $4.9 million grant for expansion of their production facilities. Community Fuels will be expected to build commercial-scale facilities that “can sustainably produce at least 15 MMgy of low carbon transportation fuels” (according to this article in Biodiesel Magazine).

I was curious about the consumption of gasoline in both our wonderful state of California and the country as a whole and so I put my math skills to good use to figure out how much of an impact this one, small company in the Central Valley could make. Here’s what I found:

Photo Source: LA Times

California is responsible for consuming nearly 11% (14.5 billion gallons) of what the US consumes as a whole (about 133 billion gallons per year, as of 2012). This means that Californians use about 39.7 million gallons of gasoline each day.

So, what can we conclude?

Well, once Community Fuels expands, they will produce enough clean transportation fuels to replace at least 40% of what all Californians use in one day (or 0.1% of what Californians use in a year). Sure, that doesn’t really sound like a whole lot, ESPECIALLY when we compare it to the entire country’s gasoline consumption, but the more traction Community Fuels and the ARFV Technology Program receive, and the more California adapts to the influx of alternative vehicles (i.e. building more alternative fueling stations), Community Fuels and other similar production facilities will expand even further to replace many more gallons of gasoline.

Unfortunately, all of this will take lots of time, money and resources. But there’s good news, too: the SJVCEO and our partners on this WIB RICO grant are making moves to expedite the transition to a San Joaquin Valley with cleaner, more efficient transportation.

EVI works to electrify U.S. commercial transport

Electric Vehicles International is busy and plans to hire additional workers.


The Stockton, Calif.-based zero-emission commercial truck builder has deals in the works with Frito-Lay North America and UPS. The orders and its development of a hybrid truck mean more jobs are on the way, adding 30 people to existing staff of 40.

Frank Jenkins, EVI vice president of sales and marketing, talks about his company's progress and why it's bullish on California and the future of electric vehicles.

The direction of the EV industry

The electrification of America's roadways has distinct components, at least from Jenkins' perspective. "When we talk about our industry, it's diverse," he says. "You have cars, light-duty trucks, then you have the heavy-duty" trucks that EVI builds.

The automotive sector is filled with the likes of the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Tesla's Roadster and upcoming sedan and SUV, plus a bunch of others waiting in the wings. Hybrids appear to be morphing a bit, too. Toyota's Prius is debuting multiple models, even offering a plug-in version.

Jenkins says electric vehicle demand will fluctuate. It's struggling somewhat now as is evidenced by General Motors' decision to put manufacturing of the Volt on temporary hiatus. Yet reports of Volt sales show a bounce with March sales setting a record. "The decision to buy is based on emotion more than anything else," Jenkins says.

A truck, on the other hand, is a tool for business. "It's an asset they use to get the job done," he says. "It has to make good business sense." And "it's a lot easier for a commercial customer to buy one of these."

While the truck market took a hit with the economy, it's since mostly recovered. Jenkins says the forecast for medium-duty  is pretty large -- "40 percent to 2020." The majority of that growth will be in the United States and Asia, mainly "because it makes good business sense because of significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs."

Diesel or electric?

Electric trucks are great for consistent routes. The range of the EVI MD, for instance, is about 90 miles. Its top speed is 65 mph, and it uses a 99 kilowatt hour lithium phosphate battery system from Austin, Texas-based Valence Technology.

Jenkins predicts more trucking companies will make the switch to electric once they better understand the segment's value. He says return on investment for electric driveline components is three to five years. The cost of the electric trucks is about twice that of diesel, but, Jenkins says, as sales increase the price differential will decline. "The biggest part of that cost is batteries, and they're forecast to drop," he says. "It's based on economies of scale."

Jenkins says New York and New Jersey offer companies incentives that help his industry and others as they work to clean the air. In California, where clean air is also a big political issue, efforts also are under way to promote electrification of the roadways.

In fact, California awarded Electric Vehicles International $1,153,053 to design, develop and deploy a range-extended electric vehicle powertrain for medium-duty truck applications through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. EVI proposes to build 10 Range-extended liquified natural gas medium-duty pickup trucks, using the Valence lithium-phosphate batteries for a 100 to 115 mile range. EVI is to integrate the new powertrain into an industry standard pickup truck and will deploy prototypes for on-site testing with partners, according to a California Energy Commission report.


The good thing about being a pioneer in the business is the lack of competition. Currently, it appears big-name truck manufacturers are sitting back and waiting for smaller outfits like EVI and Smith Electric Vehicles Corp., based in Kansas City, Mo. to take all the initial niche-building risks.

Smith announced the launch of its Newton Step Van in Indianapolis at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March. The company has inked a deal with FedEx Express that inspired Bryan Hansel, CEO and chairman of Smith, to say Smith looks forward "to successful vehicle deployments that demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of fleet electrification."

The Newton Step Van  has a range similar to that of EVI.

In addition, Freightliner has developed the M2 106 Hybrid powered by the Cummins ISB 6.7 liter engine. The company also has worked with Tesla on an all-electric version.

EVI's hybrid Range Extended Electric Vehicle, or REEV, developed in partnership with the CEC and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has that market covered as well. The plug-in hybrid boasts 40 miles in all-electric mode with extended range in hybrid mode limited only by fuel tank capacity. It offers 30 percent fuel savings.

The potential to making a believer of a company like Frito-Lay

It's big. But first, an electric truck must prove itself, Jenkins says. "It has to carry that load. It has to meet their needs in terms of performance. And we've done that." The next step is paying for the product. Jenkins says a company must achieve its return on investment and that will come with volume.

More trucks sold mean the price will drop. Once you get commercial customers buying the product and the volume up, there will be no need for incentives, he says. EVI also has the added ability to adapt a product to the specific needs of a client. All the specialists and engineers who know the product inside and out are on staff. They know how everything works and how it can be tweaked to achieve perfection.

Jenkins calls it "optimized driveability."

From GM to electric

Jenkins is a veteran of the industry. For 28 years he worked for General Motors in its fleet and commercial segment. There, he developed a majority of its marketing programs so he's quite familiar with what it takes to get a buyer to notice a new rig and plunk down the cash.

"It's the industry I love and the business I know," he says. "And I'm a true believer in the growth of hybrids and EVs."

Jenkins is also a believer in the importance of shedding some of the nation's reliance on foreign oil in the name of security -- of the nation and the economy. "We don't have to rely solely on gas," he says.

The biggest hurdle

"The price point," Jenkins says. "You have to build a product to get the job done, and we're pretty good at that. That's just a given."

He says past manufacturers on the international market produced equipment that didn't meet expectations, making EVI have to prove itself. "They have to try it and drive it," he says of prospective clients. "I have to jump through hoops to prove it can do the job."

If EVI’s success continues, there is a chance more companies may be attracted to the San Joaquin Valley.

Jenkins says he's noticing increased interest from key players. But he cautions, it doesn't mean a big company will move operations into Stockton. However, it may mean a big company will seek out EVI to work jointly on a project.

Frito-Lay purchases Stockton, Calif.-built electric trucks

Electric Vehicles International is at it again.

The Stockton, Calif.-based company has inked a deal with Frito-Lay North America that will send an additional five of its electric-powered EVI-MD delivery trucks to the snack food giant. Frito-Lay completed a test of one of the trucks in Alameda, Calif. and plans to use the additional trucks on routes in Northern California.

“The EVI electric vehicles give Frito-Lay another promising option to help meet our long term goal of being the greenest fleet in North America,” says Mike O’Connell, senior director of Fleet Capability at Frito-Lay, in a statement.

This is just the latest from EVI, which has been creating electric powertrains for the past 20 years. In August 2011, the company finalized a deal with UPS for 100 delivery trucks, and it hasn't slowed down. In January 2012, it expanded its California manufacturing operation with new equipment and 30,000 square feet, and in March the company announced it opened an office in Southfield, Mich., which is 15 miles north of Detroit.

However, another deal hardly makes a trend. Charis Michelsen of says, "It’s definitely a promising start, but let’s wait to see how far Frito Lay North America goes in converting its massive fleet to something cleaner and greener." As evidenced by Michelsen's story, the deal did get attention. Expect the clean energy press to be watching closely.

For Frank Ferral at the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, expansion of EVI is a good thing because he says the company hires local. Ferral is also a board member of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.

Frank Jenkins, EVI vice president of sales and Marketing, acknowledges the potential of the most current deal. “Frito-Lay is a leader in the adoption of zero emission delivery vehicles and is the ideal customer and fleet application for our medium duty, return-to-base trucks,” he says.

EVI, which has been producing such powertrains for 20 years, says its all-electric drivetrain in the Frito trucks is "seamlessly integrated" in a Daimler Freightliner M2. The truck offers a 90-mile range and top speed of 65 mph. It uses a 99 kilowatt hour lithium phosphate battery system from Austin, Texas-based Valence Technology.

Other stories of interest:
Stockton electric truck company scores big with UPS

State of Sustainablity event planned in Stockton on June 8

Green Team San Joaquin plans a forum on the state of recycling, energy and air quality in California's agriculturally rich Central Valley.

The event, dubbed the State of Sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley, is planned from 8 a.m. to noon June 8 at the Hilton Stockton, 2323 Grand Canal Blvd. in Stockton.

Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston provides the welcome. Johnston will be followed by Rosalie Mule, director of government affairs with Waste Management/West Group, who will give the "State of Recycling Address." California Energy Commission Commissioner Carla Peterman provides a "State of Energy Address," while Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, adds the "State of Air Quality Address."

The second half of the program explores opportunities to develop jobs in the renewable energy sector. The Green Team has partnered with economic development organizations and workforce investment boards in the region to identify growth and emerging green markets and to expand clean energy businesses and jobs.

Closing out the event, John Melville, president of consulting firm Collaborative Economics, will lead a renewable energy business focus group.

For more information, go to or

REXPO VII Gives Green Tint To Stockton

I lived in Stockton for a few years in the late 1980s. My wife and I were newly married, and she was a features reporter for The Stockton Record. I really like the community. It is ideally located, in my opinion. It's close to the San Francisco Bay area, a short drive from the state capital and relatively close to some big-time skiing.

It is in some ways a leader in the green movement, but we moved away before the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce created REXPO, an annual conference that highlights sustainability and environmental stewardship. This year's event, REXPO VII, is from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 9 at the Hilton Stockton, 2323 Grand Canal Blvd.

Panel discussions and exhibits are highlights. This year's panels are on clean energy collaboration for businesses, education and government; bottom line benefits of being a leader in climate change; and grant programs and financing.

Panelists include Paul Johnson, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno; Sam Geil of Geil Enterprises; Joseph Oldham of the city of Fresno; and Seyed Sadredin of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
Panama Bartholomy, deputy director of the California Energy Commission, is the luncheon speaker.

Here is more on the event from The Stockton Record.

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Ethanol Boost Leads To Planned Reopening of Stockton Plant

California's new budget provided a boost to ethanol projects, which means Pacific Ethanol, a producer of ethanol fuel, will reopen a plant in Stockton within 60 days.

The facility in Stockton could reopen in December. A plant in Madera also will reopen if market conditions allow, said Neil Koehler, president and CEO of Pacific Ethanol Inc.

The plants are coming back because the state budget approved Oct. 8 included the California Ethanol Producer Incentive Program, for which the two plants are eligible. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows newer vehicles to use a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Previously, the mix was limited to 10% ethanol.

Whether that means, however, that more ethanol will wind up in the mix remains to be seen, as this report says. The vagaries of corn crop and prices also play strong roles.

The Stockton plant has a capacity of 60 million gallons. In Madera, the capacity is 40 million gallons. Koehler did not say how many jobs would be created when the plant reopens.

The company recently restructured financially after filing for bankruptcy protection, which allowed it to sell warrants and raise $35 million in cash, sell minority interest in an energy company for $18 million and retire $17 million in debt.

A dramatic drop in ethanol prices led to the bankruptcy filing, according to The Sacramento Bee.