Lessening the carbon footprint: Compressed natural gas for major fleets

Do you ever wonder how many total vehicles are on the road in the US?

As of 2011, there were over 254 million registered vehicles (US DOT)! Of this total, 10.9 million were considered medium- or heavy-duty vehicles (think trucks and vehicles with six or more tires).

Having over 10 million medium to heavy-duty vehicles on the road can contribute to negative impacts on road travel. One major negative factor is the carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel usage. Other externalities include the stress put on roads by heavy trucks, fossil fuel usage, and other factors related to increased road traffic.

Energy choices can make a difference in air quality

With this many vehicles on the road, you can’t help but consider how much energy is required to keep all of these vehicles running. It seems like 10 million medium to heavy-duty vehicles would have a negligible impact compared to the other 244 million vehicles on the road. However, a 2014 press release from the White House stated

“In 2010, heavy-duty vehicles accounted for approximately 25 percent of on-road fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector1."  

Medium to heavy-duty vehicles, which is any vehicle over 14,001 pounds, create a huge environmental impact. If current fleets were to switch to a different energy source with lower greenhouse gas emissions, they could make a huge difference. A fleet consists of two or more trucks owned by a governmental agency or business. It is important to recognize that oil and natural gas are both nonrenewable sources of energy. Therefore if demand outweighs supply, there could be a shortage. While natural gas does not solve our energy problems, it does help the US reduce dependency on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and diversify our energy sources. Currently the United States uses fossil fuels to produce 85 percent of our energy needs.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel

Do you ever wonder how many total vehicles are on the road in the US?

As of 2011, there were over 254 million registered vehicles (US DOT)! Of this total, 10.9 million were considered medium or heavy-duty vehicles (think trucks and vehicles with six or more tires).

Having over 10 million medium to heavy-duty vehicles on the road can contribute to negative impacts on road travel. One major negative factor is the carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel usage. Other externalities include the stress put on roads by heavy trucks, fossil fuel usage, and other factors related to increased road traffic.

A conversation with the Coordinator for Iowa Clean Cities Coalition, Stephanie Weisenbach

What would you say is the major benefit to a company fleet to switch to CNG?

The main driver is the cost savings. Cost savings may be anywhere from $1.00-$2.50 per gallon. A few of the larger company fleets that switch to CNG install their own refueling station, which accounts for the higher range of savings.

What is the biggest barrier for fleets to switch?

The largest barrier is the upfront cost of vehicles and equipment. However, the payback is relatively quick, even with the upfront costs; the payback can be as short as 1-2 years for some fleets. Another barrier is the public refueling infrastructure. For companies that send their fleets cross-country, it can be difficult to find enough public refueling stations along the way. However, fleets traveling locally within a state are adopting CNG vehicles at a much higher rate since the refueling sites are more familiar to local companies.

Do you think CNG is a viable long-term solution to cutting Greenhouse gas emissions?

Yes! I think another consideration, though, is how you define long term. They say that currently we have about 100 years of fossil fuels [including oil and natural gas] left at the current rate of usage. Looking further into the future, we anticipate a higher incorporation of renewable fuels, which will help extend this 100 year fuel prediction.

What do you envision large truck travel to be like in 30 years? Would you say trucks will still play a major role in transporting of things, or would it switch to air travel, train, etc.?

I would say truck travel will continue to play a huge role in transporting items in the future. Based on the projections I have seen, I would guess there would be a significant increase in truck traffic, as well as freight travel.

In your opinion, do the benefits of reduced carbon emissions outweigh current extraction methods?

From extraction to usage, or ”˜well to wheel,’ CNG has a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to petroleum. The main method for extracting CNG is a relatively new method known as hydraulic fracturing. Since hydraulic fracturing is relatively new, there has been a lot of new research to find out ways to reduce the impact this extraction method has on the environment. Current research is also focusing on ways to capture natural gas from landfill waste, animal waste, waste water, and other methane-emitting sources. I have high hopes that these alternative, renewable natural gas sources will become more popular in the future.

Related information

Want to see the cost savings for yourself? Visit this website for a cost calculator for a truck using diesel vs. CNG. (http://www.freightlinergreen.com/calculator)

It is important to recognize that oil and natural gas are both nonrenewable sources of energy. Therefore if demand outweighs supply, there could be a shortage. While natural gas does not solve our energy problems, it does help the US reduce dependency on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and diversify our energy sources.

Related links

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer