My November/December 2009 Editor’s Comments (at the printers at this moment), entitled “GHG Emissions: Cows, Cars, and Construction,” serves warning of broad range of initiatives on the horizon waiting to descend on us under the threat of “global climate change.” In it I extend the following thoughts:
One of the problems in coming to grips with the GHG situation has been the confusion not only in the interpretation of climate data by various experts, but often in the data themselves. Lulled by such uncertainties, many have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, thinking perhaps that this too will go the way of most doomsday pronouncements. But forget that. The carbon train has left the station, and already we’re hearing the rumblings of increased regulatory activity and the promise of expensive mitigation programs to tax our already depleted larders.
Ending with the caveat:
The point is, GHG reduction is going to become a religious affirmation for those of us who plan to be around for the next decade or two, so maybe it’s time to stake your place at the amen corner.
These two thoughts lead me to introduce the idea of alternatively fueled vehicles in your operations. Why? Consider the following:
Spearheaded by greenhouse gas, energy security, plus a variety of sustainability concerns, and propelled forward by a variety of governmental sticks and carrots, the transition to alternatively fueled waste vehicles is gaining serious traction.
The leading contender among alternative fuels is natural gas, principally methane. Beyond its apparent blessing by the present administration and the large lobbying effort in its behalf, natural gas has other advantages: (1) it is plentiful in the US and throughout the world (a principal factor in long-term price stability); (2) its extraction, transport, and distribution infrastructure are well-established; (3) because it is composed primarily of gaseous hydrocarbons and because it has a slower flame speed, allowing for a more controlled combustion, it is relatively clean-burning: and (4) in addition to huge known and anticipated reserves in the US and throughout the world, it is “renewable” through natural and controlled processes.
While natural gas fuels 25% of the energy use in the US, only a small fraction (less than 1%) finds its way into the transportation sector, the bulk going to residential, industrial, and electric power generation in equal portions.
Though it is combustible in its ambient form, natural gas must he compressed or liquefied for efficient storage or transport. CNG is pipeline gas compressed to 3,600 psi for bulk storage. When methane is refrigerated to -260°F, it turns to liquid for high energy-density transport and storage. At atmospheric pressure, LNG occupies only one six-hundredth the volume of natural gas in vapor form. A GGE equals about 1.5 gallons of LNG. Because it must be kept at such cold temperatures, LNG is stored in double-walled, vacuum-insulated pressure vessels. Typically. LNG is passed through a heat exchanger, where it is returned to gas form prior to use in an engine.
Natural gas is usually sold by the therm (100,000 Btus, or roughly 85% of the 118,000 Btus found in a gallon of gasoline). Because of its relatively high ignition temperature (1,300°F versus 850°F for gasoline), its narrow combustion range (6%–16% concentration in air), and because it is lighter than air in its gaseous form, natural gas is considered a relatively safe fuel when compared with gasoline. Additionally, it is nontoxic.
A CNG-powered vehicle gets about the same fuel economy as a conventional gasoline vehicle on a gasoline-gallon equivalent (GGE) basis. A GGE is the amount of alternative fuel that contains the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. A GGE equals about 5.7 pounds of CNG.
While the number of natural gas vehicles (NGVs) using CNG or LNG in operation worldwide comprises a minuscule portion of the total, all major sizes and classifications of vehicles are represented. Historically, NGVs have come about through retrofit of gasoline or diesel engines, and in neither case has the marriage been optimal because of differences in the energy density, standard Btu rating, and burn-rate properties of the fuels. As engine manufacturers have turned their attention to the optimization of dedicated NGV engines, differences in performance have diminished dramatically.
Major stumbling blocks to the commercialization of NGVs lie in vehicle range and refueling infrastructure. Critical in mass-market applications, the problems are of less concern in a locally contained and controlled fleet environment, where refueling can he scheduled and performed unattended during off-hours.
Contained in what is generally referred to as the Energy Bill, the two income tax credits that fleets may be eligible to obtain are: Income Tax Credit for Alternative Fuel Vehicle and Income Tax Credit for Alternative Fuel Infrastructure. Each Income Tax Credit provides an incentive for fleet managers to convert their vehicles to alternative fuel use.
Under The Energy Policy Act of 2005, a tax incentive is provided with the purchase of an NGV. The Income Tax Credit is equal to a portion of the incremental cost of an NGV. The applicable percentage available for a new alternative fuel vehicle is 50% of the allowable incremental cost if the vehicle is a dedicated alternative fuel vehicle. An additional 30% (80% total) of the allowable incremental cost if the new alternative fuel vehicle, providing it has received a certificate that it meets the applicable emission standards.
The incremental cost of any NGV is equal to the amount of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the natural-gas vehicle over the price of a comparable diesel or gasoline-motor vehicle. As stated in the Energy Policy Act, there are limits to how much incremental cost will be allowed in each individual gross vehicle weight rating (GVW). They are:
* Light-duty vehicle (up to 8,500 pounds)—incremental cost up to $5,000 (eligible for up to 80% funding)
* Medium-duty vehicle (up to 14,000 pounds)—incremental cost up to $10,000 (eligible for up to 80% funding)
* Medium-heavy-duty vehicle (up to 26,000 pounds)—incremental cost up to $25,000 (eligible for up to 80% funding)
* Heavy-duty vehicle (over 26,000 pounds) —incremental cost up to $40,000 (eligible for up to 80% funding)
Beyond these federal incentives are a host of state and local programs too numerous and convoluted to list. The best source for such information are the vehicle manufacturers and their local dealers.
Is there an NGV in your fleet’s future? A decade ago I’d have said, “maybe,” but to myself wondered, “but why?” Today, my answer would still be “maybe,” but beneath my breath, I’d say, “It’s worth your serious consideration.”
Sooo…Aside for the fact that this is a lousy time to be considering vehicle purchases, have you given any thought to transitioning any of your vehicles to alternative fuel?