I've been writing a lot about air pollution lately because I think it's an important issue that doesn't quite get the attention that it deserves anymore. It was more obviously a problem in the U.S. when huge smog days were frequent (Los Angeles used to be almost permanently hazy). We've made progress on that front, especially compared to many cities in Europe and Asia, but while the problem is not less visible, it still requires urgency because the more we learn about the impacts of air pollution on our health, the worse they appear to be. Every rock we turn reveals a new reason why we must clean up our air sooner rather than later.
One way to clean things up in urban environments is to move away from burning fossil fuels whenever possible - walking, biking, electric vehicles - and to move to the cleanest fuels when it's not possible. Someday all buses and delivery trucks will probably run on electricity, but in the meantime, replacing diesel with cleaner burning fuels like compressed natural gas, propane, or even better, with biogas from renewable and carbon neutral sources would help improve air quality.
UPS runs one of the largest fleets of trucks in the country, and so they have the perfect "rolling laboratory" to experiment with all kinds of ways to improve fuel efficient, pollutant emissions, etc. So far they have close to 5,500 "alternative fuel" vehicles, with everything from all-electric, hybrid electric, hydraulic hybrid, CNG, LNG, propane, biomethane and light-weight fuel-saving composite body vehicles.
Their latest initiative will have them power a fleet of 400 trucks with what they call renewable natural gas (RNG). It's basically biomethane derived from renewable sources, such as decomposing organic waste in landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural sources. This methane is not from fossil sources, so when burned it doesn't add net CO2 to the atmosphere. In fact, capturing it and burning it helps because methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.
UPS fueling stations in Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles will have this RNG and will provide it to both tractors and delivery vehicles beginning this month. The three stations will provide approximately 1.5 million gallon equivalents annually of RNG.
If all goes well, it sounds like UPS could expand its use of RNG to the rest of its natural gas fleet, which has 2,500 vehicles.
The renewable natural gas will be provided by Clean Energy Fuels, a company co-founded by T. Boone Pickens, the oilman who has been investing big in wind power and pushing for natural gas to be used in transportation for a number of years.