Jackson’s Proposed “Sustainability Strategy for Vehicles” is a merry-go-round that will keep America dependent upon foreign oil for decades to come.
Earlier this week, Mitch Jackson of FedEx argued that natural gas was not a solution to displace our country’s current foreign oil dependence. He claims that diesel is lower in carbon and that the real solution should be hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles powered by diesel and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Further, he argues that natural gas is just another fossil fuel that lacks a fueling infrastructure and can only provide “just in time” delivery businesses reliability of service with redundant public natural gas fueling stations that can support private ones. Not only does Jackson need to do more homework on the domestic availability and clean air benefits of natural gas, he needs to realize that deploying vehicles that use slightly less foreign oil - vehicles that have little testing or are not available in the marketplace - will not solve America’s energy crisis.
According to the California’s Air Resources Board and Energy Commission, the carbon content of diesel fuel is almost thirty percent higher than domestic natural gas and less than one percent lower in carbon content than gasoline. Conversely, natural gas can be blended with biomethane - renewable natural gas derived from landfills, sanitation plants, or agricultural wastes - or renewable feed stocks of hydrogen. To add perspective on what this means for natural gas as a fuel, the California Air Resources Board estimates that landfill biomethane can provide up to an eighty-eight percent reduction in carbon content when compared to diesel fuel. Furthermore, as diesel engines attempt to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission standards for 2010, added emission control strategies will further reduce the diesel vehicle’s efficiencies. In fact, Jackson confuses the efficiency benefits of old diesel engine’s with diesel fuel. However, diesel efficiency is no longer a given advantage over natural gas engines as sophisticated emission control systems required for diesel are not required for natural gas: a cleaner burning fuel.
Jackson is correct in urging the country to further develop hybrid vehicles or plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicle platforms that can one day harness the electrical grid’s renewable sources of power but he makes three fundamental mistakes with this strategy. First, hybrid platforms dependent upon diesel fuel cannot plug into a renewable electrical grid as they generate electricity through the vehicle’s braking system. Second, medium-duty hybrid trucks remain costly prototypes that are manufactured in small volumes, and are far more unreliable than natural gas trucks due to the infant state of battery technology. This is especially the case for heavy-duty “big rig” applications. As for plug-in or dedicated battery-electric vehicles, these vehicle options do not exist in the marketplace nor will they for quite some time. Conversely, over 8.6 million natural gas vehicles operate on today’s roads and natural gas trucks are available on the U.S. market today with dozens of manufacturers that produce delivery trucks, refuse trucks, transit buses and eighteen wheelers. In fact, the United Parcel Service, FedEx’s competitor, operates over a thousand natural gas delivery trucks that reliably deliver packages daily to their customers with greener tailpipe emissions and significant fuel savings. Third, Jackson fails to make the argument that hybrid and plug-in hybrid strategies should be complimented by the use of lower carbon fuels like natural gas. Jackson overlooks the fact that his strategy still depends heavily on carbon-intense foreign oil that has already peaked in production, which brings us to his next flawed argument.
Jackson incorrectly asserts that natural gas could lead us right back into a position of foreign energy dependence by tying natural gas to oil as a limited and fungible commodity. Jackson’s own hybridization strategy, however, fails to move the nation significantly off its current foreign oil addiction due to the lack of hybrid vehicle availability for trucks and the fact that diesel, unlike natural gas, has already peaked in production. Jackson also understates or misunderstands the significance of the country’s abundance of domestic natural gas supply. With recent U.S. advancements in natural gas production of shale, the country’s proved reserves have increased from 82 years to roughly 118 years at 2007 consumption levels. There is no question that the nation should take Jackson’s advice on replacing current natural gas power generation with renewable sources of energy like wind or solar. However, we should take advantage of natural gas by dedicating this clean fuel to transportation. By doing so, we suddenly find ourselves with a plan that provides clean renewable electricity to power our homes and a significant supply of affordable low carbon fuel that could power our vehicles for decades to come. What’s more, natural gas as a transportation fuel provides the country with time; time to allow for the very battery technology advancements that Jackson favors. In turn, more efficient vehicle platforms for natural gas vehicles will further our supply of domestic natural gas, extend affordability of natural gas to consumers, and open the door to other renewable fueling options like hydrogen and biomethane.
Finally, Jackson questions the practicality of building a nationwide natural gas fueling network to power our vehicles. What Jackson fails to realize is that, unlike any other alternative to diesel or gasoline, the nation’s natural gas pipelines provide virtually every American consumer or fleet, public or private, with an opportunity to fuel because the backbone of the fueling infrastructure already exists. This is how the rest of the world increased their natural gas vehicle populations by over 300 percent within five years totaling 8.6 million vehicles. It’s time for America to harness its own energy and kick its dependence upon foreign oil. Natural gas provides Americans with a clean, affordable, and domestic alternative to foreign oil and a pathway to a cleaner, more sustainable transportation future.
Here is Mr. Jackson’s original posting:
Moving in Circles
By Mitch Jackson
Created 01/05/09 - 7:11am
“Merry-go-rounds move, but wheels travel”
Some weeks back, I participated in a panel discussion at the Corporate Responsibility Officer CRO Conference in Chicago. I had the pleasure of participating with some very smart people, including executives from IBM, BT, McDonalds, Orbitz and Campbell Soup. One of the questions I was asked concerned energy policy and the viability of a national strategy of moving from gasoline and diesel for powering our nation’s vehicles to using natural gas. I didn’t express much enthusiasm for the plan. Here’s why:
1. FedEx vehicles, like most other commercial vehicles predominantly use diesel fuel, rather than gasoline or other alternative fuels like natural gas. Diesel usage has better fuel efficiency than these other fuels, which translates to lower carbon, or greenhouse gas, emissions as well. Any replacement fuel needs to improve the nation’s fuel economy from where we are today.
2. Passenger vehicles and light trucks predominantly use gasoline to a very high degree - the percentage is north of 90%.
3. To use natural gas vehicles, we, as a nation, would have to build a completely new fueling infrastructure for vehicle fueling.
4. To use natural gas vehicles, we, as a nation, would have to build a completely new natural gas vehicle population. And the infrastructure and the vehicle population present a “chicken-and-egg” scenario. Which comes first?
5. Even the installation of private fueling facilities for centrally-fueled fleet vehicles would require a public fueling infrastructure as backup. Why? Just consider that FedEx values service reliability. We must have the ability to power the vehicles that serve our customers. Without fueling backup, a facility with an inoperative fueling station would also have parked, non-operational vehicles - the worst kind of fuel economy.
6. Natural gas, like oil (which produces diesel fuel and gasoline) is a fossil fuel which emits carbon emissions when burned.
7. Natural gas, while plentiful within the U.S., is, like oil, a fungible commodity - meaning that it can be transported and sold in other markets that require natural gas - including foreign markets.
So, no matter that the fuel would be sourced locally in the United States - its price and availability, again, like oil, would be influenced by foreign demand. So, what’s the answer, or at least part of the answer?
Well, natural gas certainly has a role in some centrally-fueled fleet vehicle applications like municipal buses. And, it’s clear that this can and should continue. But, there is a more holistic approach for the nation - one that can accomplish a two-fold purpose.
Put simply, we should “green” the power generation utility grid with renewable energy and electrify a substantial portion of surface transportation using hybrid electrics, electric and plug-in electric vehicles. This would lower the nation’s carbon emissions, improve our energy efficiency and help diversify our energy supply. Doing this would require only one new infrastructure - the “green” power generation utility grid - connected to our traditional electricity grid.
This “greened” energy infrastructure, combined with the existing diesel and gasoline network, could then be sufficient in meeting both our electricity needs and supporting transportation, rather than having to also construct a natural gas infrastructure - yet another fossil fuel network.
Oh, yes, about my quote at the start of the post: “Merry-go-rounds move, but wheels travel.” The point is that substituting one fossil fuel for another may mean we’re shifting our energy supply, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going anywhere.
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