Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

Real-World Fleets Put Natural Gas Vehicles to the Test

July 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

AT&T chose CNG technology because it’s a cost-effective way to help the company reduce its fleet-based carbon emissions, and because it’s currently readily available in the U.S. 
AT&T chose CNG technology because it’s a cost-effective way to help the company reduce its fleet-based carbon emissions, and because it’s currently readily available in the U.S.

Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) offer numerous advantages for companies looking to “green” their fleet. The price of compressed natural gas (CNG) is at historic lows compared to diesel and gasoline. Natural gas also burns cleaner, contributing to lower emissions and maintenance costs and is a homegrown fuel, supporting government initiatives that promote U.S. energy independence.

But, with a limited number of fueling stations available and an incremental cost of $10,000 to $20,000 or higher (depending on vehicle type and size) to convert vehicles to operate on natural gas, can it become a viable alternative for widespread fleet use?

Green Fleet magazine spoke with representatives at AT&T, Giant Eagle, and Waste Management — all of which have made substantial investments in vehicular natural gas technology — to get their first-hand perspective on NGVs. The following details their programs and results.

■ Sector: Telecommunications

■ Types of NGVs: Service vans, light aerial bucket trucks, Ford F-250s, and passenger sedans.

In March 2009, AT&T announced plans to invest up to $565 million as part of a long-term strategy to deploy approximately 15,000 alternative-fuel vehicles through 2018, including replacing up to 8,000 vehicles with compressed natural gas models — one of the largest U.S. corporate commitments to CNG vehicles to date. As of January 2012, AT&T had added more than 5,000 CNG vehicles.

According to a 2009 Center for Automotive Research report, AT&T’s planned alternative-fuel vehicle initiative would save 49 million gallons of gasoline over the 10-year deployment period and reduce harmful emissions by 211,000 metric tons — the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 38,600 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

■ Why natural gas? “We chose CNG technology and feel it is important to AT&T because it’s a cost-effective way to help us reduce our fleet-based carbon emissions,” said Katie Dugan, associate director, Global Fleet Operations, AT&T. “It’s also readily available in our country right now. This is an investment in the future of our company, one that will allow us to operate more efficiently for years to come. Having a fleet our size means that any change can make a significant, positive difference, and, as a result, we hope to help spark greater market demand for alternative-fuel technologies.” 

■ Results: “We expect to avoid the purchase of 2.5 million gallons of unleaded gasoline in 2012 and each additional year our fleet of CNG vehicles are in use,” Dugan said.

■ Challenges: “In any region, the availability of public infrastructure is the greatest challenge to deploying CNG vehicles,” Dugan noted.

■ Future NGV plans: “We expect to continue progress toward our goal of replacing up to 8,000 vehicles with CNG models [by 2018],” Dugan said.

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