From Pump to Wheels: New Study Will Measure Methane Emissions Associated with Natural Gas Vehicles

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In our quest for energy security, Americans are increasing use of domestically produced natural gas.  A new study supported by Waste Management will attempt to determine the true methane footprint associated with the natural gas used in heavy-duty vehicles.  

With the nation’s largest fleet of heavy-duty trucks that run on clean-burning natural gas – more than 2,000 trucks across North America – Waste Management is well on its way to achieving its goal of converting 80% of its collection vehicles to natural gas.  These operations depend on development of natural gas fueling infrastructure.   We have developed 40 natural gas fueling stations for our own trucks, and another 21 are available to the public or to others with pre-approved access.  While this is an expensive investment, it is one that makes business sense for the company and our shareholders as we realize the long-term maintenance and diesel fuel cost savings associated with natural gas.    

North America has significant natural gas resources; tapping and using those resources creates environmental, economic and energy security benefits for the U.S. and Canada, if done responsibly.  Natural gas is the cleanest of all burning fossil fuels, but uncombusted natural gas – the main ingredient of which is methane – has a substantial greenhouse gas footprint.

Waste Management is participating in a recently announced study  to determine fugitive emissions of methane associated with routine operation of natural gas fleet vehicles fueled by either compressed or liquefied natural gas.  It will measure methane leaks that occur at various stages in the refueling and operations – from pump to wheels – of both kinds of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles (NGVs).    

It is important that we do so because we want reliable empirical data on methane leakage for this very important U.S.-based and cleaner burning fuel source.  For WM, use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in our fleet reduces our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 21% and mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx) by more than 30% compared to the equivalent 2013 diesel-fueled trucks.  The emissions reductions associated with CNG are even greater relative to the older diesel trucks we are replacing. Reliable empirical data will help us understand whether or how much methane leakage occurs so that we can augment our current practices to the extent necessary or develop technological improvements to minimize the impacts.    

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