January 2010, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature
The City of Burbank, Calif., recently placed into service a new 2009 solid waste rear-loader collection truck powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). This small addition to the City’s 485-unit fleet is significant as it completes the goal of a 100-percent natural gas-powered solid refuse fleet.
David Rodriguez, fleet superintendent, said the switch to CNG has been relatively easy, aside from the up-front costs. Each unit costs roughly $65,000 more than diesel-powered vehicles, and a capital dollar investment is required to build the infrastructure for retrofitting repair shops and building fueling sites.
“The City’s stance has always been that we understand the technology costs money, and it’s our responsibility to use our money wisely,” Rodriguez said. “We feel it’s more prudent to pay extra initial capital outlay and give our citizens and geographical area better air quality.”
Nestled between two major freeways and home to an airport and active train rail system, Burbank’s focus on emissions reduction is important to city leaders.
Immediate Payback Seen
The City is seeing immediate benefits from the use of CNG. With vehicles running all day, emissions reduction is significant. CNG costs about $1 less per gallon than gasoline and diesel fuels, which means big savings for the City.
“Take a refuse truck that’s driving eight hours a day, five days a week, and gets about 5 miles to the gallon. That means a lot of savings, not only in the carbon footprint, but in dollars to us,” said Ari Omessi, assistant public works director.
With the switch to CNG, Burbank’s fleet has also realized reduced maintenance and repair costs.
“The CNG engine seems to be bulletproof,” Rodriguez said. “Other than oil changes, we’re not seeing any major component malfunctions.”
A surprising benefit has been the quieter-running CNG engines. This noise reduction is another benefit to the City and, in particular, its citizens.
“Diesel is noisy; these are whisper-quiet,” Omessi said. “Imagine the noise associated with a trash truck accelerating away from a stop or a sweeper cleaning streets. Most of these vehicles go out before 7 a.m., so the audible noise difference is a real benefit.”
Despite the advantages, complaints associated with CNG vehicles include frequent fueling. Because CNG takes up more tank space than conventional fuels, drivers must fuel up more often, a challenge when fueling sites are limited. However, the City has worked around this roadblock. Its vehicles are fueled on-site overnight, so every day, CNG units start with a full tank. Further, each truck is spec’d with tanks capable of holding 60 gas-gallon-equivalents (GGE), providing enough fuel for trucks to complete a day’s route without returning to the City site for fuel.