An environmentally supportable fuel that can be home-grown at your local landfill. Renewable...

An environmentally supportable fuel that can be home-grown at your local landfill. Renewable natural gas – read biomethane – seems like a tidy solution.

HDT File Image

Climate-change deniers are a problem in my eyes. The science is pretty overwhelming, but we live in a world where ‘inconvenient truths’ are too often dismissed. We can’t afford to do that.

One of my feisty daughters recently had to be pulled by her friend from a party for fear of an argument turning into fisticuffs. Literally. She was arguing with a 60-something woman who claimed, among other bizarre notions, that climate change is in fact a fraud perpetrated by Muslims aiming to disrupt western democracies. I kid you not.

People who believe things like that can vote, sad to say, so I fear for my girls’ futures. What sort of world will they be living in 20 or 30 years from now? I don’t think it’s a pretty picture.

All of which is the prelude to chatting about renewable fuels to make trucks roll down our highways without contributing emissions that do us harm. I believe that we need to double our efforts to get off the diesel train as soon as we can. I believe that climate change is real, and dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. I love diesel, even love the smell, and I expect it will power most of our long-haul trucks – and a lot of short-haulers too – for quite a while to come. It is, after all, a mighty efficient fuel, and it’s almost infinitely cleaner now than it was just 10 years ago. It’s certainly not the only contributor to climate change — cow flatulence is actually bigger, seriously — but it’s still a fossil fuel. And that means carbon.

For a while it was thought that natural gas was something of a savior, being slightly cleaner, plentiful, and relatively cheap. But it’s a fossil fuel as well, and doesn’t pack as much energy punch as the equivalent amount of diesel. Infrastructure is an issue but not an impossible one. I believe there’s some doubt about its cold-weather performance, plus the extraction process gets no love, and probably shouldn’t. Not surprisingly, NG truck sales have trailed off in the last couple of years.

What could revive them is renewable natural gas, RNG for short. Also known as biomethane, it differs from traditional sources of natural gas because it’s derived from renewable sources such as decomposing organic waste in landfills, wastewater treatment, and agriculture. It’s then distributed through the natural gas pipeline and made available as either liquefied or compressed natural gas.

RNG is completely interchangeable with conventional natural gas. It’s a drop-in fuel that can replace, or blend with, natural gas. And it’s sustainable.

Think about that. An environmentally supportable fuel that can be home-grown at your local landfill. It can even be a circular solution, as it is for some refuse haulers. Republic Waste, for instance, has several operations in which material brought to a landfill is processed on-site to capture methane that fuels the very trucks doing the carriage. Neat and very tidy.

RNG production in North America more than doubled between 2015 and 2018, and that growth is now being helped by United Parcel Service. The giant courier outfit just dramatically increased its commitment to RNG by contracting with Clean Energy Fuels for 170 million diesel-gallon equivalents (DGEs) of ‘Redeem’ RNG through 2026. It’s the largest such deal ever.

This wouldn’t work for everyone, but until we see batteries or fuel cells that can affordably power our long-haul machinery – and that’s not going to be soon – RNG strikes me as the most useful alternative to diesel out there.

About the author
Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood

Executive Contributing Editor

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus at Newcom Business Media, which publishes Today’s Trucking.

View Bio