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Biomethane, Hydrogen Advances Help Clear the Air

Nearly half of the natural gas used in transportation in California last year was renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane, and the overall volumes of fuel for natural gas vehicles (NGV) have been increasing at the rate of 250% annually for the past three years, according to a recent report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

RNG, or the so-called green version of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) used for transportation, comprised 10% of the state's NGV fuel in 2013, and in 2014 that was 22%.

Nationally, almost 35% of the NGV fuel is RNG these days, according to David Cox, the head of the new Sacramento, CA-based, 72-member North American Renewable Natural Gas Coalition. For California, the 50% level was reached in the third quarter last year, Cox told Fleets and Fuels newsletter earlier this month.

California is providing credits for renewable fuels, making RNG competitive with straight fossil natural gas even with the current low commodity prices. The credits cover the extra cost of producing the bio-based version of NGV fuels, which in the fourth quarter last year amounted to 57% of the NGV fuel burned in the state for transportation, according to CARB's data.

CARB's data show that the diesel gallon equivalents (DGE) of natural gas used for transportation in the state totaled 10.2 million DGE three years ago and the end of 2015 the annual total was 68.1 million DGEs, 19.6 million DGEs in the 4Q2015 alone.

California's leading supplier of RNG is Newport Beach, CA-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which is providing it in both LNG and CNG forms under the brand name of "Redeem." Earlier this year it announced a large deal with United Parcel Service (UPS) for Redeem to support the growing NGV presence in UPS's alternative fuel fleet, one of the largest anywhere (see Daily GPI,Feb. 12).

Clean Energy sold more than 50 million gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE) of Redeem last year, compared to 20 million GGEs in 2014, the company said earlier this year. The City of Santa Monica, CA, Big Blue bus system buys Redeem from Clean Energy, and another big municipal bus system, the Orange County Transit Authority, recently announced a deal for RNG from Texas-based Element Markets Renewable Energy (see Daily GPIMarch 30).

Additional suppliers of RNG nationally include Aria Energy, Montauk Energy, BiCNG, and Morrow Renewables, along with RNG Coalition members, units of BP and Royal Dutch Shell, according to the coalition's Cox. He said there is a need for greater RNG production capability in California where the demand for the transportation fuel is the greatest.

Broad Range of Alternatives

Separately, last Wednesday CARB Chairperson Mary Nichols led a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (EV) rally on a 400-mile trip from Los Angeles to the CARB headquarters in Sacramento as an Earth Day event. Nichols stressed California's across-the-board push for alternative transportation fuels, of which NGVs and RNG are only a part.

Officials from the state's Zero Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure and California Energy Commission joined Nichols in the rally, each driving fuel cell EVs that were supplied by Toyota, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz.

"Thanks to California's hydrogen infrastructure investments, my Toyota Mirai fuel cell EV [FCEV] can get me anywhere I need to go," Nichols said. The state has relatively few FCEVs (300-400), but CARB staff are projecting more than 10,000 in 2018; there are currently 15 retail hydrogen fueling stations, all opened in the past 10 months, but well below the 1,000 stations and "hydrogen highway" envisioned by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger 10 years ago (see Daily GPIMarch 15, 2006).

Feds Contribute to CNG Vehicle Programs

On a national basis, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Transit Administration last Tuesday dished out $22.5 million in grants for its low and no-emission vehicle deployment initiative. It is part of the Obama administration's investment in "an economy powered by clean transportation," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Seven grants, ranging from $1.3 million to $5.4 million were given to public transit operations in five states (California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington) to promote zero-emission fuel cell and EV buses.

Some of the transit systems, such as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, already have substantial CNG- and LNG-powered buses in their fleets.

In the expanding CNG fleet space, Phoenix-based Republic Services Inc., the large refuse hauler/recycling company, has added 124 CNG trucks to its refuse fleet that numbers more than 2,500 CNG vehicles supported by 38 fueling stations. Republic officials claim to save roughly 18 million gallons of diesel fuel annually through the use of natural gas in transportation.

The recent CNG fleet expansions were in Broward and Dade counties, FL (62), bringing Republic's CNG vehicles operating in southern Florida to 127; four in the metropolitan St. Louis area, bringing the CNG total vehicles there to 107; the greater Portland, OR, area (16), reaching a total of 35 CNG vehicles there; and Contra Costa County in Northern California (4), pushing Republic's CNG vehicles there to 123.

A Republic spokesperson said the company expects to continue a "gradual fleet conversion" to CNG, calling it the company's "preferred alternative fuel technology."

Also in Florida, the city of Pensacola reported that it has been successful in operating a "modest" fleet of CNG vehicles, insisting on using QVM-qualified vehicle modifiers or OEM products and not attempting to retrofit existing vehicles to run on CNG.

The city has 38 CNG vehicles, ranging from Honda Civics to Autocar refuse trucks. Westport Innovations has supplied dedicated CNG and CNG-gasoline bi-fuel vehicles to the Florida city.

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