RNG Is the Fast Track to Cleaner Air in California
by Thomas Lawson (California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition/ACT News) California policy makers—at the local and state level—are increasingly under pressure to make electric vehicles the only clean transportation option for every use. That would be a mistake: it would close the door to other alternatives that meet or exceed EVs’ emissions benefits and leave some types of fleets with dirty diesel as their only cost-effective option for near-term purchases.
In California, upwards of 95 percent of trucks run on diesel. These and other heavy-duty vehicles produce a disproportionate share of emissions—20 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gases in the U.S., about 50 percent of smog-forming emissions, and more than two-thirds of toxic diesel particulate pollution. The need to address this situation is urgent: people who live around ports and major trucking routes are literally dying from air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions were an emergency yesterday.
Many policy makers seem fixated on a solution that’s not available yet: market-ready electric trucks and buses that can meet the demands of all heavy-duty operations. We already have a fuel that can do the job and offers distinct advantages. It’s renewable natural gas, also known as RNG or biomethane.
RNG has four big benefits: It’s a climate twofer, reducing greenhouse gas emissions through both its production and use. It reduces toxic air pollution. Its local production creates good jobs. And it can do all this now, through use in readily available near-zero natural gas engines.
RNG, the climate twofer
RNG is the lowest-carbon fuel available on a full fuel-cycle basis (production to end use), according to California Air Resources Board analyses for the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, updated in 2015. It’s produced by capturing methane—a potent short-lived climate pollutant—that would otherwise flow into the air from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, food waste, and dairies and other large agricultural operations. The process is a compelling realization of circular economy principles: byproducts and waste that cause pollution become a valuable new product.
The near-zero engines also produce almost no nitrogen oxides (NOx), a primary component of smog, or black carbon. CARB has certified Cummins Westport’s ISX12N and L9N natural gas engines at 0.01 grams NOx per brake horsepower-hour while running on RNG—half the emissions required in its optional low-NOx standard of 0.02 g/bhp-hr, and more than 90 percent lower than the current federal standard.
Deploying trucks powered by RNG could also create as many as 130,000 good-paying jobs in California (in RNG production, truck and fueling infrastructure, and related fields) and add $14 billion to the state’s economy by 2030, according to an according to an analysis by the transportation consulting firm ICF. Just at the two San Pedro Bay ports in Southern California, replacing diesel vehicles with 17,000 low-NOx trucks running on RNG would add more than 23,000 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic benefit, ICF found. READ MORE