The Obama administration’s proposed new ozone standard could expand opportunities for the use of natural gas vehicles (NGV), according to both industry and government sources.

The mobile source strategy that was released Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1) includes a concept for EPA to develop a low-nitrogen oxide (NOx) standard for trucks that can currently be met using natural gas, an official with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) told NGI on Friday. EPA’s strategy recognizes that cleaner combustion may still be needed for some sectors.

“This new ozone standard means that we will need emission reductions beyond what we need for the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) ozone standard,” the CARB official said, while reiterating that the NGV trucks can meet the higher standard.

Both nine- and 12-liter natural gas engines meet the proposed stiffer standard, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Fuels Corp. said. “The new Cummins Westport Inc. nine-liter natural gas engine recently certified by CARB will reduce NOx levels by 95% over the cleanest-rated diesel engine,” he said. “And the 12-liter is expected to hit the market in 2017.

“These engines will allow fleets of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to not only meet, but far exceed the ozone standards announced by EPA. Natural gas remains the superior fuel to meet today’s transportation needs both environmentally and economically.”

EPA’s new ozone standard “will raise the bar” for many communities attempting to reduce NOx emissions, said Matt Godlewski, president of Washington, DC-based trade group NGVAmerica. EPA’s proposed standard would set ozone at 70 ppb, tightening today’s standard of 75 ppb, which has been in effect since 2008.

NGVAmerica contends that natural gas engines offer big benefits through “the lowest NOx emissions among transportation fuels” in use today in the high-fuel using medium- and heavy-duty trucking sectors. “These are benefits that fleets and communities are likely to embrace as they develop implementation plans to meet the new standards,” Godlewski said.

Separately, federal and state actions are being pursued to provide more momentum to the use of more alternative fuels in transportation. In that regard, NGVAmerica and other trucking and fueling interests are focused on getting the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) to adopt the “diesel gallon equivalent” (DGE) measurement as the national standard for natural gas sold in the United States as a transportation fuel.

The issue is particularly relevant, the groups contend, since Congress adopted legislation to tax liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the same energy content as diesel. They will be targeting January and July meetings of the NCWM next year to continue to state the case for DGE.

Meanwhile, in California, CARB re-adopted its low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), requiring a 10% reduction by 2020 in carbon intensity in transportation fuels used in the state. The tougher standard has both the biodiesel and NGV sectors claiming to have the best carbon scores for their respective liquid and gaseous fuel sectors.

In Colorado, the state energy office that has been administering an alternative transportation fuels incentive program indicated that another $14.5 million will be available to help offset the incremental higher costs of NGV, propane and electric vehicles. The Alt Fuels Colorado program is operating in partnership with the state’s Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC) and the state Departments of Transportation and Local Affairs.

RAQC handles the grants, and for the latest round of funding it has indicated that $9 million will be available for public fleets and $5.5 million for private fleet operators. The program will pay up to 80% of the incremental cost of alternative fuel vehicles, such as NGVs.

In other states, compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling and transit fleets continue to expand. As an example, in Georgia last Tuesday, Advanced Disposal opened its seventh CNG fueling station — a TruStar Energy facility in Macon, GA, which initially will support 15 CNG Peterbilt trucks with Heil bodies. Advanced Disposal plans to increase the use of CNG to be 15% of its fleet by the end of this year.

In California, up to 217 CNG New Flyer 40-foot Xcelsior buses could be put in service by Omnitrans, a municipal service in San Bernardino, CA, and other transit systems throughout the state. The transit company ordered 15, and it has options for an additional 202 buses, according to the newsletter Fleets & Fuels. The estimated value of the New Flyer of America contract is $119 million.

Omnitrans is acting as the lead public transit agency in a consortium of California bus fleet operators, including Culver City, El Grove, Montebello, Torrance, Stanislaus County, Sunline Transit, and the University of California, Davis.

In Orange County, the transportation authority has indicated it wants to switch to renewable natural gas (RNG) for more than 340 of its CNG buses — 202 new ones. The agency has issued a request for proposals to various potential suppliers of RNG. There will be a pre-proposal conference Oct. 8, a question-and-answer period running through Oct. 14, and a Nov. 17 due date for receiving proposals.