WIH Resource Group: CNG fuel use in garbage trucks

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Source: WIH Resource Group

WIH Resource Group (WIH) was retained by the City of Boise Idaho to conduct a study on converting the City's 25 refuse collection vehicles (garbage trucks) from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG). The Study was developed by WIH Resource Group (WIH) and was created from industry research and analysis of the current use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in refuse (municipal solid waste – MSW) collection vehicles by both public sector agencies and private sector service providers throughout the United States.

The City of Boise's interest in this information was to assess the potential for utilizing CNG fueled refuse collection vehicles in their own organizations or subcontracted solid waste and recycling collection vehicles and operations.

The surveys and interviews conducted by WIH’s Staff with various cities and other private sector companies that currently utilize and operate CNG fleets, centered on securing industry experience, data and knowledge on the following key items of interest to the waste management industry, both public and private sectors:

• CNG Engine reliability;
• Optimal CNG engine type (manufacturer)
• Average age of CNG fueled fleets & life expectancy of CNG fueled fleets;
• Average R&M and operational costs of CNG fueled fleets;
• Determination of the overall reliability of CNG fueling systems;
• Assessment of the legal payload impacts, i.e. contrasting standard diesel collection vehicle payloads to that of CNG fueled trucks (CNG fueled vehicles have heavier tare weights due to the need for larger fuel tanks), including transportation routing cost impacts to and from disposal sites;
• Review of the available grant funding from the State, EPA and Federal agencies to assist in capital costs of fleet acquisition and ongoing operating costs;
• Assessment of the effects of CNG fuels and fueling in cold winter climates and elevation changes which require full trucks to transport up inclines.

In the United States approximately 180,000 refuse trucks operate and burn approximately 1.2 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year, releasing almost 27 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas, CO2. Every gallon of diesel fuel burnt emits more than 22 pounds of CO2. In addition to contributing to global climate change, diesel-fueled trash trucks are one of the most concentrated sources of health-threatening air pollution in virtually all cities.

CNG is natural gas that has been compressed into a high-pressure container for transportation. Since the 1960s, CNG has become a vehicle fuel alternative to oil-based gasoline and diesel fuel. The International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles estimates that more than one million vehicles worldwide operate on CNG.

In the United States more than 1,300 CNG refueling stations are available. The total includes public service stations and private depot-based refueling stations intended to serve fleets. Several companies provide CNG/LNG refueling infrastructure to fleets on a component or turnkey basis.

The WIH Resource Group project team conducted a series of interviews and meetings with individuals that are subject matter experts (SMEs) from public agencies, private sector solid waste collection companies and CNG industry suppliers of both fuel and engines.

The average price of natural gas is up to $1.00 less per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) and refuse truck operators can get fixed-price, multi-year natural gas fueling contracts from CNG and NG fuel suppliers like Clean Energy.

The use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil. In 2005, 64% of the crude oil used in the United States was imported from foreign sources other than Canada. By comparison, in 2005, an estimated 97% of the natural gas used in the United States was supplied from the United States and Canada, making it less vulnerable to foreign supply disruption and price volatility.
Prior to the interviews, each organization was provided a list of the issues that it would be asked about in its interview.

The CNG market is more stable than the gasoline market. CNG generally costs 15 to 40 percent less than gasoline or diesel. CNG requires more frequent refueling, however, because it contains only about a quarter of the energy by volume of gasoline. In addition, CNG vehicles cost between $1,500 and $3,500 annually more than their diesel-powered counterparts. This is primarily due to the higher cost of the fuel cylinders. As the popularity and production of CNG fuel refuse collection vehicles continues to increases, CNG vehicle costs are decreasing.

Once new natural gas trucks are in service, their operators stand to save money. Not only has the price of natural gas been significantly lower than that of diesel fuel for many years (approximately $.50 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) cheaper), but an excise tax credit available under the Energy Policy Act (2005) has made this fuel an even better bargain. Estimated savings for new 20 compressed natural gas trucks for the City’s Solid Waste Division is contemplating purchasing, may produce fuel savings of more than $157,894 per year over diesel fuel.

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