Natural Gas Fuels Financial Stability and Energy Freedom

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The logistics and refuse segments of the economy, in Indiana and across the nation, are increasingly turning to an alternative fuel that helps everyone breathe a little easier – natural gas. 

There are a number of benefits of natural gas as a transportation fuel, including its domestic availability, established distribution network, relatively low cost and emissions benefits. And it’s a growing trend in the transportation sector. Natural gas transit buses are gaining popularity, thanks to several of the benefits they offer.

There are now nearly 63,000 natural gas vehicles in service in the United States.  Recent Clean Cities coalition reports show that stakeholders displaced more than 215 million gallons of petroleum in one year alone. About 95 percent of those natural gas vehicles were powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and the rest were fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Reliability:  After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, compressed natural gas (CNG) fleet vehicles were able to keep running in Atlantic City and Long Island despite interrupted gasoline and diesel fuel deliveries, power outages and fuel shortages. 

Lower Emissions and Improved Air Quality: The cleanliness of natural gas is significant. The Argonne National Laboratory says light-duty vehicles running on conventional and shale natural gas can reduce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent. Also, the vehicles don’t produce evaporative emissions because CNG fuel systems are completely sealed. 

Municipal sanitary divisions are increasingly moving to natural gas fleets or limiting bids to those who operate natural gas trash trucks.  This allows them to benefit from emissions reductions and expand on other initiatives such as zero landfill facilities. This combination of steps improves air quality for all citizens.

Efficient Logistics: Shippers are also giving advantages to natural gas-powered carriers.  They continue to designate some of their lanes as natural gas routes only. 

Cost Savings: Short and long-term financial planning is improved for companies like Monarch Beverage Company in Lawrence, Ind. by removing the roller coaster of petroleum pricing swings and by the ability to lock in natural gas fuel prices for more than five years at a time. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, Monarch Beverage saves over $2 million each year by using natural gas.

Indiana’s Leadership in Natural Gas

Indiana companies are well ahead of the curve in leveraging the benefits of natural gas in their operations. The Muncie Sanitation Department in East Central Indiana plans to expand its use of CNG vehicles after putting 16 of them into its fleet of refuse trucks, street sweepers, grapple trucks and pickups. Fuel cost savings are paying for the project. City officials say they like that the fuel is cleaner and that no matter what happens in the Middle East, they know what fuel prices in the coming year will be. 

Fair Oaks Farms in Northern Indiana harnesses the power of natural gas from cow manure to fuel its fleet of milk delivery trucks.  The manure is collected and then put into a bio-digester where methane is harnessed. The methane is then purified and compressed. Officials involved in the project say the move by Fair Oaks Farms has displaced at least 1.5 million gallons of diesel per year and reduced smog-causing pollutants by 90 percent or better. 

As Hoosier businesses continue to look for better balance sheets and that competitive edge, I suspect that those who rely on the “Crossroads of America” to move goods will continue to increasingly choose natural gas and other alternative fuels.  Organizations like Fair Oaks Farms are proving that switching to natural gas is good for the environment AND better for the bottom line.

Kellie Walsh is the former executive director of the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition.

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