A new near-zero-emission engine advance for heavy-duty vehicles (HDV), combined with the use of renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane, may provide transportation that is as at least as “clean” as electric vehicles (EV), according to a report released Tuesday.

Based on the assumption that reducing emissions in the HDV sector is critical in addressing global climate change, consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA) identified the combination of RNG and the Cummins Westport Innovation engine as a “game changer” for clean transportation advocates. The paper was issued at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, CA.

“We now have a clear, cost-effective strategy to achieve our air quality and climate protection goals,” said GNA founder Cliff Gladstein.

Southern California Gas Co.’s (SoCalGas) George Minter, regional vice president for external affairs and environmental strategy, said the new engine and RNG fuel gives the natural gas transportation sector the ability to deploy vehicles with current technology that are “equal to, or lower than,” equivalent EVs.

When the air quality problem is dissected, it turns out 80% of the problems stem from the transportation sector, Minter said. Within the transportation sector’s contribution to ozone, HDVs are among the largest contributors with with rail and off-road construction vehicles, he noted.

“All of those represent engines that can be replaced with a new (near-zero-emission) engine,” Minter said.

The paper’s 12 recommendations seek broader policymaking, industry and government support for the combined technologies. Last year the Cummins Westport new engine was certified as 90% below federal standards (see Daily GPI, Oct. 8, 2015). Equally important is the emergence of RNG as either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) for fleet operators, including existing NGV fleets (see Daily GPI, March 30).

Federal clean air policy, combined with climate change measures nationally and globally advocate reducing fugitive methane emissions (see Daily GPI, Jan. 13, 2015). They also set up a ready market of HDV NGVs, ACT speakers said.

The GNA paper recommends a national low nitrogen oxide (NOx) standard to create more nonattainment areas in the United States, which would force local and regional officials to adopt programs to promote near-zero-emission HDVs.

It also calls on federal, regional and state officials to focus on eliminating the remaining barriers for allowing more RNG to be co-mingled with fossil-based natural gas in existing distribution and transmission pipeline systems. A bill (AB 2773) in the California legislature is aimed at doing that this year (see Daily GPI, April 27).

The new engine is expected to be available in 6-, 9- and 12-liter sizes, said Cummins Westport’s Jeff Campbell, marketing and bus segment director.

An ACT panel of end-users, including representatives of United Parcel Service and Waste Management, reiterated their commitments to natural gas as an alternative fuels, particularly with RNG as an option.

Santa Monica, CA’s bus maintenance officer Getty Modica said the city’s bus fleet is switching all of its buses to RNG and near-zero-emission engines in the coming years. “It’s a huge win for the environment,” Modica said. “We think it is the way to go, not just fiscally, but in terms of environmental responsibility.”

Cities and corporations with large fleets increasingly are setting initiatives to be “sustainable organizations,” and that presents a huge market opening for the value proposition of nearly emission-free engines and RNG, the panelists said.