grows for natural gas waste hauling
The sudden rise in the cost of gasoline and
diesel fuel has sent shockwaves throughout the American economy.
Higher fuel costs seep into every aspect of doing business and
result in across-the-board price increases for consumer, commercial
and industrial goods and services. It has also acutely impacted
waste haulers, since capital equipment (primarily trucks) and
fuel expenses represent the largest expense categories, excepting
Waste handlers do have a basic, significant
advantage over long-haul truckers, however. Since most collection
routes are local, waste haulers with larger fleets have the option
of daily fueling natural gas vehicles (NGV) with either compressed
natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). While the up-front
costs of buying new trucks or converting old ones to run on natural
gas are much higher than diesel, and the investment to build
a filling station is substantial, the long-term savings are driving
waste haulers to natural gas, not just for fuel savings, but
to comply with bid mandates. As the trend towards NGVs for trash
collection continues, prices for vehicles and stations are expected
to continue to decline as they have dramatically over the past
Once a company amortizes the costs of capital
equipment necessary to get started, the fuel savings can be as
much as 50 to 70 percent below the cost of diesel, according
to Scott Edelbach, general manager of Vocational Energy. Edelbach’s
company builds compressed natural gas (CNG) filling stations.
He outlined how the savings are achieved once a fleet has its
own filling station: “A diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) is 139
cubic feet of natural gas. You have to pay the gas utility to
deliver the gas and, on average, that cost across the country
is typically 15 to 20 cents per DGE. The cost for the electric
to operate compressors runs about 15 cents per DGE. Maintenance
cost on the compressing equipment run roughly 15 cents per gallon.
Then you have to add road taxes, which vary depending on the
state. In states like Florida, Colorado and Louisiana there is
no charge for the state road tax and in many other states the
CNG is taxed at a reduced level from diesel fuel road taxes.
And, of course, add federal excise tax which is 21 cents per
“Adding it all together, CNG roughly equals $1.35 to $1.60 per
diesel gallon equivalent, depending on where you are in the country.
If you own your own station you can get a producer credit from
the federal government of $0.50 per gallon. Subtract that and
you are generally in the $0.85 to $1.10 range.
Vocational Energy, a relatively new company in business for a
little over two years, is focused on the growing demand for CNG
– particularly among waste management customers. It built 4 filling
stations last year and expects to complete 15 more by the end
of this year – 9 of them in the waste industry for customers
such as Veolia Environmental Services, Casella Waste Systems,
J&J Disposal Service, Randy’s Environmental Services, CR&R
Waste and Heil Environmental. For Rumpke Consolidated Companies,
Vocational is building a station that uses processed landfill
gas and fills the trucks with compressed methane.
“We help the customer understand the benefits and economics of
CNG, build the station to match the fuel needs and provide ongoing
support and maintenance,” said Edelbach. “If you are using more
than 200 or 300 gallons per day, it’s a nice starting point to
build a station.” According to Edelbach, ballpark costs to build
a CNG station can run from $500,000 to service a 15 truck fleet
up to $1.5 million for a fleet of 100. “One of the challenges
right now is that conversion costs for vehicles are quite high.
You are looking at a $10-15,000 premium to convert a light vehicle
and $30-50,000 for a bus or garbage truck. Typically, a new CNG
powered garbage truck will cost $30-35,000 more than a new diesel
Energy Vision is a New York-based, national non-profit organization
that analyzes and promotes ways to make a swift transition to
the clean, petroleum-free transportation fuels of the future.
Joanna Underwood, president of Energy Vision, was asked about
the growth and benefits of using natural gas for waste hauling.
She said, “Mandates have driven much of the progress, either
the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) rules
in southern California, or other community mandates, which are
expressed through requirements on which waste haulers and recyclers
bid for jobs.
“SCAQMD mandated that if you had a heavy-duty fleet of more than
15 vehicles you could not burn petroleum, you had to burn natural
gas. That enabled manufacturers of natural gas engines to find
it worthwhile to refine engines. Now the engines are excellent
performers. The major engine was developed by Westport Innovations.
Today, about 90 percent of southern California garbage trucks
run on natural gas.”
Underwood continued, “When you are dealing with an intrinsically
dirtier fuel like diesel, over time the pollution control equipment
needed to keep that truck in good running order deteriorates.
Once that diesel truck is put on the road using an approved engine,
it does not ever get tested again. So the question is how clean
is it years later? There is also the question of the complexity
of the emissions related equipments used to meet the 2010 diesel
standard. It’s more complicated to operate and more amenable
to human failure.”
Underwood’s team prepared the first analysis ever done of the
refuse truck sector’s alternative fuel use in 2003, Greening
Garbage Trucks. She said, “We found just 240 natural gas refuse
trucks were operating in the United States in 1998. But by 2002
there were 692 in 31 communities, of which 27 were in California.
By 2006, when we did the second study, the number was up to almost
1,400 in 57 communities. Since the federal stimulus funding,
this number has grown significantly, possibly being close to
4,000 today. We will be verifying this number in the third Greening
Garbage Trucks report that will be issued close to year end.
“When Energy Vision’s program was launched in 2007, there were
no modern CNG trucks on the east coast – just a few early models
which did not work very well. One of our goals was to promote
progress on the east coast by emphasizing the fuel security,
economic and health risks related to continuing reliance on petroleum-based
fuel, and the environmental and economic benefits of a shift
to natural gas. In our first year, we attracted the interest
that inspired the first New York fleet to go 100 percent CNG
in Smithtown, Long Island. This fleet and three other fleets
that purchased CNG garbage trucks brought the total to 38 on
“Today in New York City and New Jersey there are almost 250 CNG
refuse trucks, plus 190 new jitney buses and more than 40 other
CNG vehicles. Almost all of these CNG vehicles were the result
of municipal mandates. We are planning to release a new report
in June on the New York/New Jersey region, called Fueling a Greener
Future: A Regional Perspective.”
CNG waste hauling has recently spread to Vermont. In May, Casella
Waste Systems opened its first CNG fueling station built with
AVSG equipment. The new station will refuel Casella’s first four
natural gas refuse trucks. More trucks are expected to be added
in early 2012 and the station may be expanded so it can serve
as many as a dozen trash or recycling trucks.
“The change in the eastern region over the past few years has
been astonishing!” said Underwood. “Green waste collection and
recycling operations bring with them a number of rewards like
quieter vehicles and reduced pollution for communities. Natural
gas trucks are cleaner than even the cleanest diesel trucks and
are more than 50 percent quieter. Lower costs for waste collection
and recycling because natural gas is less expensive than diesel
fuel, and because government economic incentives and grants have
been created to jump start the use of this new and better technology;
and finally greater fuel security because natural gas is more
plentiful domestically than petroleum.”
There appears to be a compelling argument for waste haulers to
think about transitioning to CNG. Besides being able to reduce
annual fuel expenditures considerably, a fueling station can
be built in the time it takes to order and take delivery of new
CNG trucks. A new CNG truck operating on an average collection
route can save $15,000 to $20,000 per year in fuel costs – enough
savings to pay for the premium price over a diesel truck.
Most importantly, it allows the CNG waste or recycler to have
a much better control over fuel costs for the length of customer
contracts, a huge advantage in competitive bidding. Natural gas
prices have remained relatively stable as compared to diesel,
and natural gas contracts can be locked-in for years. Best of
all, natural gas is domestically produced, abundantly available
and likely to be available in even greater supply, perhaps even
at lower prices on the east coast as more natural gas from hydraulic
fracking comes into production.
Moreover, maintenance on CNG engines is simpler and much less
costly than dealing with the intricate filtration and emission
systems layered upon diesel engines to meet emission rules.
Scott Edelbach at Vocational Energy commented on engines: “Cummins
Westport has produced one of the most reliable natural gas engines
to date with the 320 hp ISLG. It’s true that early versions of
natural gas engines were underpowered and were available only
in a couple of OEM chassis configurations. Today’s ISLG engine
is available in 95 percent of chassis configurations used by
What began as a move to “green” to reduce air pollution looks
like a move to green of another kind. And, quieter trash trucks
will be universally welcomed, especially early in the morning.