Truck Talk: No fuelin’ around edition


This week, we’ve got gas — natural gas, renewable natural gas and renewable diesel fuel. Amid the buzz around battery-electric trucks, drop-in fuels often get short shrift. That might be shortsighted. 

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It’s a gas

Except for devoted fleets — think refuse haulers, school buses and some small and midsize fleets — natural gas gets little respect and practically no sustained growth. Though it is far cheaper and pollutes less, it is still a fossil fuel derived from oil. 

In the green swing in the U.S. — a majority of Americans now believe we have some responsibility for the plant getting warmer — California is no longer a lone voice. State policy makers are all-in on electric vehicles. But California also makes enough renewable natural gas (RNG) from methane to run 20% of the heavy-duty trucks that traverse the Golden State.

RNG is winning fans across trucking. Amazon this week agreed to purchase RNG from Clean Energy Fuels — and it might even be getting into the business. RNG can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 382% depending on the source, according to the advocacy group Natural Gas Vehicles for America.

Then there’s Cummins Westport, the joint venture that makes practically all the natural gas engines used in the trucking industry. The JV goes away at the end of the year. But Cummins (NYSE: CMI) will keep making the engines and possibly bring a 15-liter version to the U.S. that it introduced in China last year.

If that happens, long-haul fleets would get another option for cheaper fuel and a smaller carbon footprint, so small as to be invisible. When methane that burns off landfills into the atmosphere is captured as fuel and runs through a natural gas fuel system, the result is negative net carbon.

3 Questions: Hugh Donnell

Hugh Donnell is the business growth and development leader at Cummins Westport, a 10-year joint venture with the engine maker. We talked about the prospects for RNG during the FreightWaves Net-Zero Carbon Summit on Earth Day. You can hear our whole conversation here. A few highlights:

FREIGHTWAVES: How does RNG break through the hype of battery electrics?

DONNELL: Renewable natural gas will give you the best operation. With a battery-electric vehicle, you’ve got to be aware of how long you can keep it charged. Renewable natural gas can keep you operating as long as you can get fuel in the tanks. So, you’re not limited operationally.

FREIGHTWAVES: What are the drawbacks?

DONNELL: It’s just a matter of changing the fuel over. From an operations standpoint, maintenance is very similar. Refueling time is about the same. From an operational aspect, it is the least disruptive of all the alternative technologies being offered that are zero or subzero emissions.

FREIGHTWAVES: How do you make the case for RNG?

DONNELL: I think the case is pretty simple if you allow the technologies to come to market that are commercially viable in addition to being environmentally viable. What is deployable when, and is there a path to those technologies? We believe there is, certainly for many applications in the goods movement space.

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Lovin’ on renewable diesel

There’s another renewable fuel getting attention this week. The Love’s Family of Companies — best known for truck stops and travel plazas — is entering a 50-50 joint venture with Cargill and its affiliates to make and sell renewable diesel fuel beginning in 2023.

The venture will be called Heartwell Renewables and includes a new renewable diesel production plant — one of few in the U.S. — and 50 full-time jobs in Hastings, Nebraska. The plant will be able to produce 80 million gallons of renewable diesel a year.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, renewable diesel shares the same fat, oil and grease feedstocks as biodiesel. But renewable diesel can be…

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