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May 27, 2015

Green Supply Chain News: Are Natural Gas Trucks Really Better than Diesel in Terms of Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions?


New Study Says Reduction in CO2 from Trucks Outweighed by Leakage of Dangerous Methane Gas Upstream in Production and Distribution

By The Green Supply Chain Editorial Staff

Adoption of natural gas trucks has come much more slowly than many - including - were expecting.

There are a variety of factors in the relatively slow uptake, as sister publication Supply Chain Digest chronicled last year. (See Growth of Natural Gas Trucks Not Reaching Levels Many Expected). Those factors include still much higher prices for natural gas trucks, falling diesel prices, and concern by some carriers that the savings they achieved from going natural gas will simply be offset by lower fuel surcharge revenue from shippers.

The Green Supply Chain Says:
So for now, this study probably takes a bit of wind out of the natural gas truck industry's sails (and sales).

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Natural gas powered heavy duty trucks are expected to represent just 3% of the US market of 338,000 new such vehicles in 2015 - the same market share as in 2014, according to analysts at ACT Research.

Now, a new potential hurdle for adoption of natural gas trucks: maybe they aren't as better for curbing greenhouse gas emissions as proponents have argued.

Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than diesel, and will reduce CO2 emissions about 30% versus diesel-powered trucks per mile driven. But a new study claims that advantage is lost when looking at the entire supply chain, where processes lead to release of methane gas into the atmosphere, a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2.

That according to a new article in published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology. Co-authored by researchers with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Columbia University's Lenfest Center for Renewable Energy, the study says the widely promised climate benefits of natural gas trucks will be realized "only if widespread emissions of heat-trapping methane across the natural gas value chain are reduced."

This in turn has many ‘implications for truck and engine manufacturers, shippers, fleet operators and policy makers, many of whom look to the operational advantage in carbon dioxide emissions to justify the higher cost and reduced fuel efficiency of a natural gas truck," the article says.

The methane s released from wells, fuel tanks, and other points in the natural gas production process. The researchers say methane has 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe.

Jason Mathers of EDF added that policy makers shouldn't promote switching to natural gas "until we are more certain about the magnitude of methane loss and have acted sufficiently to reduce emissions and improve natural gas engine efficiency."

Meaning the EDF would be against say adoption of the famous "Pickens Plan" from legendary energy investor T. Boone Pickens, whose ideas in part included federal government loans to help carriers and shippers finance the transition to more expensive natural gas trucks.

The researchers say about 6.3 million metric tons of methane escaped from the natural gas value chain in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report. EDF said that level of release produces the same negative 20-year climate impact as about 111 million cars or 140 coal-fired plants, and that "wasted gas" is worth more than $1.42 billion.


Natural Gas Industry Processes and Example Methane Emission Sources



Source: ICF International

But these upstream methane emissions certainly can be reduced, the EDF says, noting another study found that the oil and gas industry could reduce methane emissions 40% or more for about one cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced - about one-third of one percent at today's prices - by replacing emissions-prone valves and properly maintaining pumps and other devices.

In a statement, Matthew Godlewski, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, an industry group, said the study "clearly demonstrates that there is a role for natural gas in addressing climate change." He also pointed to recent academic studies finding that methane emissions have been decreasing at hydraulically-fractured wells and in local distribution systems in recent years.

Godlewski further called the EDF study "confusing" because it was conducted apart from research efforts on which the two groups are collaborating to investigate the same issue. One of those efforts, known as the "Pump to Wheels Methane Leakage" study, seeks "to end speculation about actual in-use methane leaks from natural gas stations and vehicles," Godlewski said in the statement.

So for now, this study probably takes a bit of wind out of the natural gas truck industry's sails (and sales), and we expect the natural gas supply chain will indeed take steps to reduce the leakage of methane in natural gas production and distribution.

Do you think these methane emissions are a big problem for natural gas trucls, or not a big dog. Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below. is now Twittering! Follow us at

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