From the largest refuse company in the United States to some of smallest independent operators, refuse companies are increasingly investing in natural gas vehicles. This investment is largely due to the tremendous savings in fuel costs natural gas trucks enjoy over diesel trucks. While the initial investment in natural gas vehicles is higher, the substantial savings on fuel make it economic to make the switch. The differential between the cost of natural gas and the cost of diesel fuel translates quickly into substantial fuel savings for refuse trucks with tough-duty cycles, low miles per gallon, and high engine hours. Today, 7,500 natural gas refuse and recycling trucks operate across the country, and about 55 percent of new collection trucks on order are powered by natural gas.
Waste Management is a leading provider of comprehensive waste management services and operates the largest fleet of CNG recycling and waste collection trucks in North America. After many trials, Waste Management determined that natural gas was the right alternative fuel to improve efficiencies and reduce greenhouse gases. The company now operates more than 2,000 heavy-duty natural gas trucks. To power these vehicles, Waste Management has constructed more than 50 natural gas stations, many of which are publically accessible. While many refuse companies start with private, time-fill stations to fuel their fleets overnight, many companies are also working with fuel providers to create public stations for use by others in the community.
Republic Services is another leading provider of waste and recycling services that is making substantial investments in converting its fleet vehicles to natural gas. Today, Republic Services operates more than 1,000 alternative fueled vehicles and has the ambitious goal of converting 3,100 trucks nationwide to run on natural gas and other alternative fuels by the end of 2015.
Refuse companies are not the only ones enjoying the benefits of natural gas refuse and recycling trucks.
Communities across the country are experiencing less offensive exhaust fumes and diesel smoke, and natural gas trucks operate at 90 percent the decibel rating of equivalent diesel trucks.
Renewable Natural Gas
Refuse companies are exploring the possibility of using renewable natural gas produced from captured methane at the landfills they operate. These projects dramatically reduce the environmental impact of waste collection operations and promise the opportunity to create a closed-loop system: refuse trucks powered by the waste they collect.
In California, Waste Management and Linde North America’s Altamont Landfill near Livermore is producing natural gas that is being used to power its refuse trucks. The Altamont project, which includes the world’s largest landfill natural gas plant, opened in November 2009, following almost 10 years of research. By July 2010, the plant was producing 1.7 million gallons of fuel. The plant is designed to produce 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per day at capacity, which is enough fuel to power 300 heavy-duty refuse trucks.
The California Air Resources Board has determined that renewable natural gas from projects like Altamont is the lowest carbon density fuel available today. The project is expected to eliminate nearly 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
The $15 million project is both technologically and economically challenging, but it has made significant progress in advancing the technology so that it could be implemented at other locations. Projects such as this are often done in conjunction with government support, since this helps reduce the risks and enables the acceleration of technology and market development. The Livermore project received support from four California agencies.
There are a number of OEM options for the refuse market. For more information and a complete list of EPA and CARB certified vehicles and engines, visit the Vehicle Availability page.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) provides an online tool that lists available alternative fuel vehicles from leading OEMs. To view a list of natural gas refuse and recycling trucks currently available, visit the Alternative Fuel and Advanced Vehicle Search.