Does Converting Utility Vans to Natural Gas Make Sense?

ford e-series van cng natural gas photo

Photo: Ford
Is This a Good Idea?
Replacing one fossil fuel might seem like a bad idea, and under certain circumstances I would definitely agree that it is, but sometimes you have to take what you can get while waiting for something better to come along. Many companies, like Verizon who just announced the conversion to CNG of 501 vans, have lots of utility vans that are currently powered by gasoline or diesel. Would a conversion bring environmental benefits? For more details on CNG vs gasoline & diesel, see below.
ford e-series van cng natural gas photo

Photo: Ford
Benefits of Compressed Natural Gas over Gasoline or Diesel
In fact, according to the EPA, compared to traditional vehicles, vehicles operating on compressed natural gas have reductions in carbon monoxide emissions of 90 to 97 percent, and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of 25 percent. Nitrogen oxide emissions can be reduced by 35 to 60 percent, and other non-methane hydrocarbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 50 to 75 percent. In addition, because of the relatively simple makeup of natural gas in comparison to traditional vehicle fuels, there are fewer toxic and carcinogenic emissions from natural gas vehicles, and virtually no particulate emissions. (source)

Why Utility Vans?
These types of utility vans are especially good candidates for CNG conversions because they all go back to the same place at the end of the day, making it easy to install CNG refuelling stations there. It's a lot more complicated with private vehicles, because not everybody can have a CNG station in their garage, and very few public stations offer CNG.

Just a Stepping Stone
While it's an improvement, the real target is probably to have electric utility vans that are recharged with clean electricity. Now that would make a big difference on the footprint of commercial fleets. But in the meantime, CNG seems to be better than what we have now. More companies should look into it (UPS has been deploying some, and even some waste management companies are using CNG), especially if the natural gas can come from methane captured at landfills or from biomass digesters.

Via Green Car Congress
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