The recent conversion of a Harvard Mail Services truck to a hybrid electric vehicle has dramatically reduced fuel consumption. As a result, the eight-month pilot program has cut the vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 22 percent.  Now, in addition to delivering thousands of pieces of mail across the University, the van is also delivering a win for the environment.   

In June 2013, Harvard Fleet Management joined with Boston-based XL Hybrids to retrofit the Mail Services Chevrolet Express van with an innovative, hybrid electric powertrain. The new technology increases efficiency and reduces fuel usage without sacrificing performance. 

“We chose to pilot the use of this hybrid technology so that we can do our part to support Harvard’s commitment to sustainability, including the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across campus,” said David Harris Jr., Director of Harvard Transit and Fleet Services. “Instead of buying a brand new hybrid vehicle we were able to save money and increase the fuel efficiency of our existing fleet, resulting in an immediate return on investment.”

To convert the Mail Service van, XL Hybrids added an electric motor with a lithium ion battery pack and cutting-edge control software that increases fuel efficiency by charging the battery when drivers brake and releases energy to the motor when drivers accelerate. A review of the van’s on-road operational data showed a nearly 22 percent fuel and greenhouse gas emissions reduction over conventional cargo vans, yielding an annual CO2 reduction of over one metric ton per vehicle.

We chose to pilot the use of this hybrid technology so that we can do our part to support Harvard’s commitment to sustainability.

In 2008, Harvard University adopted a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2016, including growth. As part of this goal, Harvard is committed to using its campus as a living laboratory, to identify and adopt innovative and cost-effective solutions that reduce energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Harvard has previously adopted several alternative vehicle technologies to reduce fuel and greenhouse gas emissions including the use of electric vehicles for landscaping and other campus operations. In 2003, Harvard Transit piloted the use of biodiesel in two shuttles. As a result, 2014 is the ten-year anniversary of using B20 ultra-low sulfur diesel in over 77 vehicles, ranging from shuttles to Dining Services’ vehicles. Lastly, in 2013 Harvard University Police Department converted their entire fleet of marked police cars to hybrid vehicles.

“In addition to our diesel delivery vehicles using B20 biodiesel, we are excited about the opportunity to add XL Hybrid technology to our fleet and further support sustainability at Harvard,” said Betsy Shortell, Director of Mail Services. As for the rest of Harvard’s fleet, stay tuned for more emission reductions in the future.