Working in a Rapidly Evolving Field

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Employee Insight

Jon Leonard shared why he loves working at the forefront of clean tech and energy innovation.


Jon LeonardTechnical Services

Employee since 2013

“I have been very fortunate to work in the field of clean transportation for 40+ years. Since joining GNA in 2013, I have authored more than 10 cutting-edge studies and assessments about advanced, clean transportation technologies and low-carbon fuels.”

My ongoing work to help develop and commercialize clean transportation technologies has been extremely rewarding. Since starting my career in the early ‘80’s, I’ve been fortunate to lead a wide array of studies, assessments, and demonstrations to advance cleaner drivetrain technologies and fuels for transportation. Along the way, it has been exciting to learn and incorporate emerging tools, techniques and policies that have been used to push America’s huge transportation sector towards clean, sustainable fuels and technologies.

Initially, the focus of regulators and industry was to develop advanced emissions control systems, in tandem with cleaner petroleum fuels (reformulated gasoline, ultra-low-sulfur diesel) needed to enable their use. This systematic approach was needed to meet tough “technology-forcing” emissions standards promulgated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the 90’s, the shift towards a more revolutionary approach had begun: to build entirely new types of ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles based on efficient electric drive systems.

I was lucky to be an integral part of the early policy and technology development efforts (government and industry) that led to CARB adopting the world’s first phased-in requirement for zero-emission (ZE) light-duty vehicles. This triggered a wide array of efforts to develop, demonstrate and commercialize battery-electric (and later, hydrogen fuel cell electric) ZE LDVs. But, by the 2000s it was very clear that focus had to be shifted to heavy-duty diesel vehicles like trucks and buses, which contribute disproportionately high levels of smog-causing emissions (primarily oxides of nitrogen), cancer-causing diesel particulate matter, and climate-warming greenhouse gases.

By the time I joined GNA in 2013, I was deeply involved with full-scale efforts to develop and widely deploy battery-electric or fuel cell HDVs wherever feasible, and near-zero-emission (“NZE”) HDVs using renewable fuel everywhere else. Today, great progress has been achieved towards this end, even in the most-challenging high-horsepower applications (on- and off-road). But, many challenges remain, including overcoming: 1) the low energy density and high cost of batteries, and 2) making hydrogen a widely available, affordable fuel.

And now, attention is turning to the commercial aviation sector, with even greater challenges regarding how to reduce GHG and air pollutant emissions. In my most-recent major report at GNA, I authored a study about switching commercial aircraft over to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – which can reduce aircraft-generated GHG emissions by 80% or more.

Working for GNA has enabled me to remain at the forefront of the sustainable transportation industry where I continue to have the opportunity to tackle new and exciting challenges each day.