The growth of natural gas as a power-generation fuel in Pennsylvania has been credited with driving down CO2 emissions – so much so that if the Commonwealth was its own country, it would have already met the CO2 reduction targets proscribed in the Paris Climate Agreement. That’s impressive, but it’s just one way natural gas can help clean the air of carbon and other emissions. Another is to continue transforming heavy duty (HD) trucks from diesel to natural gas in order to dramatically cut the significant pollutants they generate.
That’s right — continue this evolution, because it’s already happening and will accelerate as HD truck owner/operators including government, business and schools access incentives to convert existing HD trucks and buses to Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV). That investment is critical to continue cleaning our air, since some 50 percent of all criteria pollutants, such as CO, lead, NOX, SOX and ozone and 28 percent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, come from the transportation sector.
For example, Waste Management (WM), the leading provider of comprehensive waste management environmental services in North America, currently has more than 9,000 natural gas trucks – almost half of its total fleet and the largest heavy-duty natural gas truck fleet of its kind. Vehicles powered by natural gas emit almost zero particulate emissions, cut GHG emissions by 15% and are quieter than diesel trucks. For every diesel truck WM replaces with natural gas – and currently 85 percent of its new vehicle purchases are NGVs — annual diesel fuel use is reduced by an average of 8,000 gallons, thereby reducing GHG emissions by 14 metric tons each.
There are more big HD truck operators moving in the NGV direction as part of their overall sustainability programs: Anheuser Busch announced in August it is transitioning 30 percent of its dedicated HD truck fleet to natural gas as part of a plan to reduce its overall carbon emissions across its value chain by 25 percent over the next three years. UPS and Amazon also are moving toward natural gas for their HD trucks, and across the nation more than 11,000 NGV transit buses carry commuters and 150 school districts operate 5,500 NGV school buses for a cleaner, healthier ride.
The environmental benefits of NGVs for waste hauling trucks, over the road and local cargo transport, and public transit and school buses are only half the equation: compared to diesel-fueled HD trucks, NGVs have significant cost advantages for purchase and operations/maintenance. For cash-strapped state, city and municipal leaders working to optimize their fiscal and environmental performance – or even survive the effects of pandemic lockdowns on their tax revenues — NGVs are a compelling win-win proposition.
How to get started? There’s help from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG) Program, which was established in 1992 under Act 166.
The AFIG Program helps to create new markets for alternative fuels in Pennsylvania to enhance energy security. It’s to help advance not only alternative fuels, but the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles, fleets and technologies. AFIG projects promote and build markets for advanced, renewable and alternative energy transportation technologies with the goal of better managing Pennsylvania’s fuel resources in a way that also improves the environment, supports economic development and enhances the quality of life.
The 2020 AFIG Program is now accepting applications until 4:00 PM on Friday, December 11, 2020, so the time is now to take advantage of the opportunity to begin conversion to NGVs for both the environmental and economic benefits. There are innovative technologies available to make conversion of existing vehicles easy and affordable, and with help from the AIFG Program there’s every incentive to get started – even with one vehicle. Technology innovations have helped deliver natural gas from shale to make Pennsylvania one of the most prolific producers on the planet, and renewable natural gas (RNG) is being generated from landfills, agriculture/farms, wastewater treatment plants and food waste. Now those fuels are helping reduce unwanted emissions from power generation and transportation sources, providing a powerful chapter in the unfolding story of how technology and innovation can bring our economic and environmental interests into ever-closer alignment.