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Are Natural Gas Vehicles the Wave of the Future?

Pennsylvania Builds Infrastructure for Mass Transit NGVs

If you’ve ever been stuck behind a bus during rush hour, you’re all too familiar with the overwhelming smell of diesel fumes. As a greenhouse gas polluter, diesel ranks just behind coal in poisonous emissions, churning out carbon monoxide and dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, aldehydes, and particulate matter. Yuck.

In 1993, the U.S. EPA launched a national Clean Cities effort in order to reduce the portion of our national carbon footprint created by petroleum-burning vehicles, improving urban quality of life. By 1995, the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities (PRCC) group was formed, covering the entire western half of Pennsylvania. Since that time, in partnership with Harrisburg, the PRCC has helped bring about a gradual shift of transit vehicles to cleaner burning natural gas. Not only is natural gas inexpensive, but it's also readily available in PA, which has encouraged this shift to natural gas vehicles (NGVs).

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will install 29 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations statewide by 2021 — 11 are already up and running. This will allow transit authorities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and in between to switch 1,600 buses from diesel fuel to natural gas. The Cambria County Transportation Authority in Johnstown has already purchased CNG buses for its transit fleet, Beaver County is scheduled for this year, Butler County plans on 2019, and the Port Authority of Allegheny County has a 2021 conversion in mind. This will mean not only cleaner air, but also quieter cities, since natural gas engines produce 25% less noise than diesel.

Privately, our Peoples customers like Giant Eagle and UPS have been industry leaders in converting their fleets to natural gas. And Vogel Disposal in Mars, PA, runs its natural gas fleet using methane produced from its own landfill — now that’s recycling!

With that in mind, is the driving public far behind? The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 150,000 vehicles currently run on CNG nationwide. Fifty U.S. manufacturers produce about 100 different NGV model cars and light trucks. And that number is constantly growing. So what are the benefits for the average driver? Compared to gasoline-powered engines, natural gas produces 75% less carbon monoxide, 50% less nitrogen oxides, and 25% less carbon dioxide. If you want to help the environment, choosing a natural gas vehicle is a great way to do it.

As natural gas filling stations continue to pop up across the country, and as consumer options for home refueling keep coming down in price, it’s just a matter of time before natural gas vehicles and hybrids are common on regional roadways. And the more NGVs on the road, the cleaner our environment will become.