Opinion: Natural Gas — Proceed, But With Caution
By Fred Krupp
Environmental Defense Fund
This Opinion piece appears in the Dec. 24 & 31 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
There’s nothing better than win-win solutions, and the Environmental Defense Fund has worked with leading companies over the years to find scores of them. We have partnered with many companies in the trucking and transportation sector, including Cummins, Caterpillar, FedEx and UPS and helped craft standards that are reducing emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines by more than 90%.
America’s natural-gas boom has the potential to be another big win — if we work together to do it the right way. But if we don’t get it right, substituting natural gas for diesel in our longhaul trucking fleet could just as easily become a losing proposition for everyone concerned.
We all know the pitch for natural gas-powered trucks: A secure, domestic fuel supply with lower, more predictable costs than diesel, and easier on the environment, too. Natural-gas trucks have already developed considerable market momentum, with new heavy-duty engines in the works and many light- and medium-duty natural-gas vehicles already plying U.S. roads in transit, municipal and other fleets.
Building out the fleets and infrastructure for regional and longhaul natural-gas trucking will be complicated and capital-intensive. Time and money on this scale equals substantial business risk, so you want to proceed with caution. Natural gas could very well be the opportunity we’re all looking for, but there are some big questions that need to be addressed first. Nobody wants to end up taking an expensive ride down a dead-end street.
Today’s diesel-emissions standards have effectively eliminated the advantage natural gas once had in terms of sulfur, nitrogen or particulates. But running on natural gas releases about 25% less carbon dioxide than diesel. Carbon dioxide, of course, is a greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming.
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