The Nat-Gas Conversion Bandwagon

   The adoption of natural gas as a transportation fuel continues to pick up speed. It is no surprise to me: I spent more than 30 years in the waste business and was the CEO of Republic Services, which is now the nation’s second-largest waste services provider, when the industry began to consider transitioning from diesel, a fuel we had used for decades. I understand the challenges in making the decision to switch to natural gas.

   We tackled those challenges head-on and started making the switch to natural gas from diesel. I’m glad we did, be-cause Republic Services is stronger today thanks to our vision, and our customers and the communities we serve are direct beneficiaries.

   The refuse industry has been the frontrunner in this race for several years and for good reason. Natural gas allows our trucks to operate cleaner while they clean the communities they serve, reducing smog-causing emissions by more than 80% and greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 20% over traditional diesel-powered vehicles.

   Refuse trucks built with natural-gas engines are also up to 90% quieter than their diesel counterparts, meaning calmer streets throughout our neighborhoods, a more peaceful sleep for our urban communities and protection from the risk of hearing loss among workers.

   There are 6,000 natural-gas refuse trucks operated by more than 100 companies on the road today, and it is estimated that 60% of new refuse trucks purchased in 2013 will be fueled by natural gas. David Steiner, CEO of the country’s largest waste company, Waste Management, is on the record saying 90% to 95% of the new refuse trucks his company will purchase will operate on natural gas.

   And let’s not forget that there are more than 12,000 transit buses across the United States running on natural gas — and fleets of medium-duty vehicles, as well.

   The message is clear: Now is the perfect time to embrace a cleaner, cheaper American fuel — natural gas.

   I don’t mean to dismiss the challenges as being insignificant — I’m saying we’ve overcome them, and I hope my friends and colleagues from the trucking industry will embrace the amazing opportunity before us.

   The cost analysis alone shows the potential. While natural-gas vehicles do require a higher initial investment today of $35,000 to $40,000 for a heavy-duty truck equipped with a 12-liter engine, it can be quickly recouped when you consider that natural gas costs, on average, approximately one-third less than conventional diesel at the pump. Depending on the market, the savings can be $1.50 per gallon, meaning the upfront costs can be recouped as quickly as a little more than a year.

   In addition, natural-gas trucks don’t require DPFs (diesel particulate filters) or SCR (selective catalytic reduction), making the cost advantage that much clearer. And we can anticipate the costs to drop precipitously as technology continues to develop and the list of users keeps getting longer, as it did for refuse trucks by 50% after the initial 9-liter natural-gas engine was introduced in 2007.

   With the cost benefits clear, a fair question has always been: Can I actually get the fuel to my trucks?

   The answer? Absolutely. Truckers are now able to travel coast to coast and border to border on natural gas, thanks to a robust — and growing — network of fueling stations. This network links our nation’s major shipping corridors across the coasts, and new stations are being added every month. As few as 20 trucks can make a new natural-gas fueling station economically viable.

   And for those of us in the business of servicing repetitive routes, natural gas makes even more sense with a central fueling site that literally saves money at every use.

   The natural-gas conversion that began while I was at Republic Services continues to play a significant role in the company’s operations. At its rate of conversion, the company plans to have more than 3,100 trucks nationwide running on natural gas and other alternative fuels by the end of 2015 — a testament to its strong environmental and economic benefits.

   The time for natural gas is now. By recognizing the potential of natural gas, we’ll clearly see a foundation for a brighter, cleaner, more energy-independent future.

   Based in Phoenix, Republic Services Inc. is a provider of nonhazardous solid waste collection, recycling and disposal services.


By Jim O’Connor, Retired CEO and Chairman, Republic Services

Transport Topics

September 9, 2013