Kellie L. Walsh is executive director of the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition.
The logistics and refuse segments of the economy, in Indiana and across the nation, are increasingly turning to an alternative fuel that helps everyone breathe a little easier – natural gas.
It's a growing trend. Natural gas buses represented nearly 19 percent of all transit buses sold in 2010. That's because of the reliability and cleanliness of natural gas as a fuel.
That reliability has been proven. After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, compressed natural gas fleet vehicles were able to keep running in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and on and Long Island despite interrupted gasoline and diesel fuel deliveries, power outages and fuel shortages.
The Alternative Fuels Data Center says the advantages of natural gas as an alternative fuel include its domestic availability, established distribution network, relatively low cost and emissions benefits.
There are now nearly 63,000 natural gas vehicles in service in the United States. Recent Clean Cities coalition reports show that stakeholders displaced more than 215 million gallons of petroleum in 2012. About 95 percent of those natural gas vehicles were powered by compressed natural gas; the rest were fueled by liquefied natural gas.
Shippers are also giving advantages to natural gas-powered carriers. They continue to designate some of their lanes as natural gas routes only.
There are big benefits beyond reliability. Monarch Beverage Company in Lawrence, Indiana, saves more than $2 million each year by using natural gas, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Short- and long-term financial planning is improved for companies such as Monarch by removing the roller coaster of petroleum price swings and by the ability to lock in natural gas fuel prices for more than five years at a time.
Municipal sanitary divisions are increasingly moving to natural gas fleets or limiting bids to those who operate natural gas trash trucks. This allows them to benefit from emissions reductions and to expand on other initiatives such as zero landfill facilities. This combination of steps improves air quality for all citizens.
Nearly 40 percent of the refuse trucks sold in America in 2011 were equipped to run on natural gas. Customers report they are noticeably quieter than diesel-powered trash trucks, and the companies say they save money on fuel.
The Muncie Sanitation Department plans to expand its use of compressed natural gas vehicles after putting 16 into its fleet of refuse trucks, street sweepers, grapple trucks and pickups. Fuel cost savings are paying for the project. City officials say they like that the fuel is cleaner and that no matter what happens in the Mideast, they know what fuel prices in the coming year will be.
The cleanliness of natural gas is significant. The Argonne National Laboratory says light-duty vehicles running on conventional and shale natural gas can reduce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent. Also, the vehicles don't produce evaporative emissions because compressed natural gas fuel systems are completely sealed.
Fair Oaks Farms in northern Indiana harnesses the power of natural gas from cow manure to fuel its fleet of milk delivery trucks. The manure is collected then put into a bio-digester where methane is harnessed. The methane is then purified and compressed.
Officials involved in the project say the move by Fair Oaks Farms has displaced at least 1.5 million gallons of diesel a year and reduced smog-causing pollutants by 90 percent or better.
As Hoosier businesses continue to look for better balance sheets and that competitive edge, I suspect that those who rely on the “Crossroads of America” to move goods will continue to increasingly choose natural gas and other alternative fuels.
Organizations such as Fair Oaks Farms are proving that switching to natural gas is good for the environment and better for the bottom line.