What’s Driving Our Quiet Clean Fuel Revolution?

August 31, 2020

In partnership with:  Trillium

Without much fanfare, there is a quiet clean fuel revolution happening across the country. This transformation is bringing much needed investment to states at a time when our economy desperately needs it. This revolution will not only provide local economic boosts, help clean the air in disadvantaged communities and deliver unmatched climate protection benefits, but it will save fleets money as well. The most exciting part? We don’t have to wait for this innovation to reduce toxic air pollutants, greenhouse gases and deliver jobs. It is already happening!

Since 2013, RNG use has expanded over 1,260% in California alone!

This sustainable energy transformation is taking place because of the dramatic increase in the use of renewable natural gas (RNG) as an alternative fuel for diesel. Since 2013, RNG use has expanded over 1,260% in California alone!

Turning Organic Waste into a Future Fuel

RNG is not a fossil fuel. RNG starts as biogas that comes from the decomposition of organic matter, such as wastewater, food, green waste and farming. Biogas is a normal and essential part of nature’s carbon cycle.

RNG starts as biogas that comes from the decomposition of organic matter, such as wastewater, food, green waste and farming.

Carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by plants. Humans harvest those plants to eat, build homes, manufacture products and feed the animals that, in turn, feed and clothe us. As we inevitably produce organic waste like garbage, sewage and green waste, this carbon is returned to the biosphere where it renews the cycle of life.

Millions of tons of biogas are produced every day. Trillium is part of a growing ecosystem that is working to capture and clean this important natural resource waste stream and recycle it to RNG, which is simply biogas that is pure enough to put in to the natural gas pipeline system or into the engine of a natural gas vehicle (NGV).

A Winning Combination

Across the U.S., about 40% of the natural gas used in transportation comes from renewable feedstocks. In California, the epicenter of this revolution, more than three quarters of the natural gas used in trucks and buses is currently RNG. More importantly, no matter where you are in the U.S., RNG is replacing fossil gas in vehicles at an increasingly faster rate.

Engine technology has evolved dramatically over the last 30 years. For example, the Cummins Westport ISL G NZ engine emits 1,000 times less NOx than a diesel engine from 1987. And, when fueled with RNG, these same natural gas trucks and buses emit up to 80% less greenhouse gases (GHG) than their diesel equivalent. In California, where the data is more precise, NGVs fueled by RNG generate one third the GHGs produced by the diesel trucks and buses they replace.

 There is about $1.2 billion being invested in the construction of new RNG facilities, 77% of which is coming from private investors.

Low-Cost Fuel for Fleets

As it turns out, not only is recycling and reusing biomethane as RNG good for the environment, but it is good business as well. Markets have emerged over the last decade that pay a premium for both the renewable and low-carbon characteristics of RNG. Nationally, fuel suppliers are required to sell a certain amount of renewable fuel. In California and Oregon, fuel providers are also required to lower the carbon content of the fuel they sell. One way for fuel suppliers to meet these obligations is to buy credits through environmental credit markets like the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard program, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program or Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program, and RNG generates credits depending on the carbon intensity of the feedstock.

Providing a State-Level Boost

But it’s not only fleet owners who are benefiting. States with these programs in place are benefiting both environmentally and economically. The Trillium co-sponsored study, An Assessment: California’s In-State RNG Supply for Transportation, 2020-2024, recently looked at California specifically and found there are 160 RNG production projects currently online or being built. The study also found that there is about $1.2 billion being invested in the construction of these RNG facilities, 77% of which is coming from private investors. These new, low-carbon RNG production facilities should be online by January 2024, and supplying nearly 120 million diesel gallon equivalent (or DGE, the same amount of energy as is in a gallon of diesel) of carbon negative RNG to near-zero emission natural gas vehicles.

The RNG that will be produced in California by these new facilities will be even cleaner than the RNG currently available. The new, local RNG will have a carbon intensity 400% lower than the fuel that makes up the market today. Just one natural gas truck fueled by this RNG will completely offset the GHG emissions of two diesel trucks!

Just one natural gas truck fueled by this RNG will completely offset the GHG emissions of two diesel trucks!

A Growing Trend Across the U.S.

This same trend is taking place across America. The economic benefits of RNG can be felt far and wide. New RNG production projects utilizing a variety of feedstocks are being developed in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. These projects represent hundreds of millions in new investment dollars, thousands of construction jobs and tens of millions DGE of diesel displaced.

One of the biggest beneficiaries will be dairy farmers. In California, most of the new projects and about 37% of the new RNG will come from dairy digesters producing RNG for motor vehicles.

In California, most of the new projects and about 37% of new RNG will come from dairy digesters producing RNG for motor vehicles.

The state’s dairy industry, which employs over 200,000 people and produces $35 billion in economic activity annually, has been buffeted by recent events including tightening regulations, increased operating costs, and an unprecedented economic recession. Many small farmers may not be able to stay in the industry. However, dairy farms that are capturing and cleaning biomethane produced by cow manure receive an additional source of revenue making it more likely for them to survive the current, and any future, economic downturns. In California, this means helping to preserve one of the state’s biggest employers. In at least a dozen other states across the nation, dairy digester projects are being built or are online already, helping the farmers in those communities thrive.

Another big beneficiary from the RNG revolution could be cities and the millions of residents that pay utility fees to have their garbage collected and their sewage treated. Across the nation, there is increased regulatory pressure on municipalities to reduce their reliance on landfills and instead recycle their organic waste. More communities are now looking at strategies to divert their organic waste into anaerobic digesters and modified wastewater treatment systems through which they can increase the production of biomethane. That biomethane can be used to produce firm renewable electricity, renewable natural gas or liquified natural gas. RNG is the perfect renewable feedstock recycling our waste streams into a powerful transportation fuel.

The quiet RNG revolution happening across the country is a major step toward sustainability.

The quiet RNG revolution happening across the country is a major step toward sustainability. What can be more sustainable than recycling what was once thought of as waste into a much-needed carbon negative energy, capable of fueling our nation’s fleets? What can be more sustainable than stimulating a multibillion industry whose primary purpose is to recover, reuse and recycle waste? RNG delivers this and much more. That’s why renewable natural gas is not only good for the environment, it’s good business as well.

To learn more about Trillium’s portfolio of fueling solutions, including RNG, visit www.loves.com/trillium.