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Trucking takes strides towards alternative fuels

By: Chelsea Tucker

Chelsea Tucker

A recent graduate from The University of Alabama, Chelsea is currently pursuing a Master's Degree and works as a web relations coordinator at Randall-Reilly.

truck alternative fuelsIncluding private stations, there are 1,263 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in the United States. This alternative fuel is being picked up by trucking companies left and right as they make the switch from diesel guzzling trucks to those less harmful to the environment. Besides compressed natural gas, there’s liquid natural gas, bio diesel, and even hybrid options to save on fuel and costs. Along with a deep concern for the future of mother earth, environmental regulations have spurred on this fueling transformation.

 The environmental protection agency (EPA) along with other transportation and environmental agencies have developed standards for heavy-duty trucks to meet within the next few years. By 2018, semi trucks must have up to a 20% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases. That’s a pretty high goal, but one U.S. state has set the bar on cleaner trucks even higher. California has some of the strictest regulations on the books. In just 10 more years, the vast majority of all the semis on California roads will be equipped with at least 2010 engines to produce even lower levels of pollutants.

Even though there are a few years left before the deadline, many companies are wasting no time in making their fleets compliant. Meijer is going full steam ahead with their conversion process. They currently have one the largest fleets of clean diesel rigs in North America with 170 trucks. In just three years, Meijer has lowered their carbon footprint by 60% and has gone above the EPA’s 2010 emission requirements. Carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by the company. Meijer used selective catalytic reduction, or SCR, technology to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by their engines. And Meijer is on their way to meet further standards by the EPA. Currently, 37% of their trucks meet 2014 guidelines. While Meijer is using clean diesel, other truck fleets have opted for CNG.

Trucks make the switch

Natural gas and oil have similar purposes, but the main compound in natural gas is methane. Also, when handled correctly, natural gas produces much less greenhouse gasses than oil. By the end of next year, UPS plans to have 285 more liquified natural gas (LNG) trucks in their fleet. They currently have only 112, so 285 is quite the increase. One reason UPS is going full steam ahead to alternative fuels is the potential contract from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) that’s on the line. GSA needs a company to handle their 15-35 million packages they send every year for the 2014-2018 period. The agency wants their delivery provider, however, to be committed to cleaner fuel. FedEx is also in the run for this contract and has also increased their natural gas usage.

M&M Cartage, a trucking company out of Kentucky, plans to be solely run on CNG by 2017. That’s 120 trucks they will be replacing. Thankfully for M&M, the state has provided them with an incentive of $800,000, but that still leaves a few million the company will have to produce on their own.

UPS and other companies making the switch will have even more reason to do so as natural gas fueling stations become more prevalent throughout the country. Clean Energy Fuels, with major director T. Boone Pickens, currently operates about 360 stations for natural gas in the U.S. and Canada. The team at Clean Energy is also working toward creating America’s Natural Gas Highway. By the end of this year, Clean Energy plans to have 70 LNG stations across the United States, with a good many of them at Pilot Flying J’s. The end of 2013 should also see 50 more natural gas stations built by the EEN group of China. Another company, Trillium CNG, is also looking to contribute to the number of natural gas stations. Trillian plans to build 101 CNG stations in 29 states by the year 2016 and is currently constructing two CNG stations in Tampa.

So in the coming years, don’t be surprised to see very modern semis taking to the freeways and fueling up with natural gas. While natural gas trucks tend to cost more, the lower cost of natural gas compared to oil helps these rigs pay themselves off in just a few years. So what about you guys? Are you making the switch anytime soon?

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