Earlier this year, I was the keynote speaker at a conference in Tulsa. I was able to take advantage of this opportunity to tour Crane Carrier’s truck manufacturing facility. That company makes natural gas trucks for our industry and I wanted to learn more about them. After all, the solid waste and recycling industry isn’t just a public health and resource conservation industry. We are also a trucking industry.
Our 100,000-truck fleet includes refuse packers, roll-offs and recycling trucks. These unique, heavy-duty trucks normally use petroleum-derived diesel fuel. That fuel has many advantages, but clean air emissions are not one of them. Although EPA regulations have lowered diesel’s sulfur content, it remains a source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Fortunately, our industry is leading the way among heavy-duty truck users in converting its fleet to the use of alternate fuels such as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Currently, more than 4,400 industry trucks run on these alternative fuels. And this number is growing every day.
These new fuels bring significant environmental benefits. They include reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and non-methane organic gases.
They offer many other benefits. They are quieter than diesel trucks, with an 80 percent lower decibel rate than that of diesel trucks. Drivers and crews let them not only for that reason but because they tend to offer a smoother operation and ride along with easier maintenance.
Another major advantage is that natural gas is primarily produced domestically, leading to less dependence on foreign oil. And for the ultimate in domestic production, CNG trucks can be powered with processed landfill gas. That fuel has even lower emissions than either compressed or liquefied natural gas.
Natural gas vehicles operate on most of the same basic principles as diesel fuel trucks. However, because this fuel is a gas, not a liquid, the truck needs a different fuel storage tank and delivery system along with some other modifications. In essence, this is a new truck. As with any new technology, the transition to a greener fleet will not occur overnight. These green trucks are more expensive than diesel-powered trucks not just because they require a different fuel storage and delivery system. They also need a whole new fueling infrastructure. This means cost and potential siting problems as companies look to expand existing truck yards or build a new yard to accommodate new fueling stations.
Yet this conversion is proceeding as rapidly as possible. Waste and recycling industry trucks have an average life of 10 years. Many companies have committed to replacing old diesel trucks with alternative fuel trucks. It is not uncommon for a majority of new purchases to be these new, greener trucks. Crane Carrier officials were happy to tell me that the majority of trucks they make for our industry use natural gas. Their experience is shared by other manufacturers.
The morning after my tour I was driving to work. Two blocks from my house I noticed that the recycling truck servicing my neighborhood was one of Crane’s new natural gas trucks. That company, of course, is only one of many that make these vehicles. Every year at WasteExpo I notice more and more natural gas trucks being exhibited on the show floor. The future is clear and for our trucks, it is definitely greener.