If we want cleaner air, we need cleaner trucks
By Daniel J. Gage, Opinion Contributor
March 30, 2018
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill
A lot of discussion is ongoing this week about the Trump administration’s move on light-duty vehicle standards. But there’s so much more to consider.
Heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) — not passenger cars — are the fastest growing segment of U.S. transportation in terms of energy use and emissions. And today’s just-in-time delivery expectation and expanding goods movement industry ensure the number of trucks on our roads won’t be reduced anytime soon.
While HDVs total 7 percent of all vehicles on America’s roadways, they account for upwards of 50 percent of all smog-precursor emissions and 20 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gases (GHGs). And 74 percent of all HDVs on the road today are not certified to the latest nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission standard.
Over 125 million Americans reside in areas of exceedingly poor air quality; 40 percent of our population is regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone and particulate matter. Most of those impacted neighborhoods are in urban and suburban communities with heavy truck traffic.
The bottom line? If we want cleaner air, we need cleaner trucks.
There is an immediate and commercially-available solution to this problem for fleets of all sizes and applications — expanded use of natural gas in transportation.
In fact, replacing one traditional diesel-burning heavy-duty truck with one, new Ultra Low-NOx natural gas heavy-duty truck is the emissions equivalent to replacing 119 traditional combustion engine cars with 119 battery electric vehicles.
The cleanest truck engines in the world are powered by natural gas. The Ultra-Low NOx natural gas engine — made in America — is 90 percent cleaner than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current NOx standard. It is certified by both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board to a 0.02 gram per brake horsepower hour (g/bhp-hr) standard, making it zero-emission equivalent (ZEE).
When renewable natural gas is used to fuel it, even greater CO2 and GHG emissions reductions are achieved, helping to clean our cities and improve the environment. With renewable natural gas, the product becomes carbon neutral or even negative.
Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) have long been the choice of fleet managers interested in escaping the volatility of ever-changing gasoline and diesel prices. Natural gas currently powers passenger vehicles, medium-duty work vehicles, short- and long-haul trucks, school buses, transit buses and shuttles, refuse trucks, construction and mining equipment, marine vessels, and locomotives.
Natural gas technology is commercially-proven and readily-available in the United States right now, not in a projected five or even ten years as is the case with other heavy-duty alternative fuel technologies. Compared to expensive electric or fuel cell technologies still in development, investing in natural gas vehicles is the most cost-efficient solution delivering more new vehicles and far more emission reductions than any other available alternative right here, right now, today.
It’s important that we have light-duty transportation options with the cleanest profile available. But if federal and state policymakers are really concerned about cleaning our air now, we as a Nation need to focus on transitioning existing heavy-duty fleets to clean natural gas-powered technology.
Daniel Gage is the president of NGVAmerica, a national organization of over 200 companies, environmental groups, and government organizations dedicated to the development of a growing, profitable, and sustainable market for natural gas or bio-methane use in on- and off-road transportation applications.