Author: U.S. Gain
U.S. Gain

Refuse Fleets Driving Change with Alternative Fuel

While our need for waste disposal remains constant, the means of transporting it have become more diverse to reflect mounting pressure for clean transportation. Many refuse haulers across the country have already entertained the role alternative fuel has within their fleets – adopting renewable natural gas (RNG) as a viable solution. However, as additional fueling alternatives begin to solidify, namely electric and hydrogen, what role will they have in helping refuse providers achieve a low carbon future? And, how soon can fleets begin to integrate these solutions into their portfolio? Keep reading below to find out.

RNG’s Established Role in the Refuse Market

According to NGVAmerica, there are currently 17,000+ natural gas refuse trucks operating throughout the United States. And – of those new refuse trucks that have been pre-ordered, 60% are fueled by natural gas. With each refuse truck accounting for ~25,000 miles driven annually, RNG provides a proven, established fueling solution that not only pairs well with fleet’s duty cycles and stated emission reduction goals, but can be incorporated into their fleet, cost-effectively. RNG qualifies for Federal RFS, California LCFS, and Oregon CFP environmental credits, while new natural gas vehicles and related infrastructure can leverage the more than $300M in regional grant funding programs to financially ease a transition from diesel.

OEMs such as Mack, Autocar, and Crane Carrier Company have compressed natural gas (CNG) refuse models in production now, available for order today. Committed to the future incorporation of CNG into their fleet, Waste Management has announced their goal to have 80% of their refuse trucks running on CNG in the next five to seven years. Regarding current status, as of June 2, 2021, 70% of their routed, refuse fleet were CNG models.

However, while adoption has increased, the outlook of the refuse market may be telling of a different story. With states and municipalities setting targets for zero emissions, fleets are caught between acting now with RNG or planning out for the future – evaluating the potential for electric and/or hydrogen. But, the question remains for many fleets – do they want to be on the bleeding edge of this new technology? While not there yet, as necessary developments are made, it is likely electric will be one of the leading contenders in the refuse market.

Electric’s Emerging Potential

For many, the quite hum of electric refuse trucks is refreshing – signifying quieter garbage pickup days for communities near you. Also, bearing zero tailpipe emissions, electric models result in improved air quality for those communities in which they live and operate. But, that’s not all. Given their “stop-and-go” operations and closed-loop routes, electrified fleets can leverage regenerative breaking to get more out of their fleet. However, the upfront cost to purchase these models can be significantly more expensive than their counterparts. While electric models are currently incentivized under California’s LCFS, Oregon’s CFP, and eligible for grant funding throughout various regions, not all states are eligible for these funds – resulting in a price premium that persists for years.

Yet, in response to municipalities commitments to ZEV targets, OEMs are joining the game, bringing electrified models to market. Such industry players include BYD, Daimler Trucks and Mercedes-Benz’s eEconic, Lion Electric and BEV, Mack and their LR Electric, and Peterbilt/Paccar’s 520EV. Despite many of these models being in their prototype phase, refuse haulers can expect more models to begin transitioning to market ready in the coming years.

In January of 2020, LA Sanitation publicly announced their commitment to have a 100% electrified refuse fleet by 2035. And – all models they bring on within the next two years will be 100% electric. Then, in April of 2021, the Town of Hempstead, NY shared their “Vision 2040” where they outline their goal of having their entire refuse fleet running on clean energy by 2040. Finally, among other municipalities, in May, 2021,  the New York City Department of Sanitation stated their goal of 80% GHG emission reductions by 2035 – unveiling their new electric-street-sweeper, in addition to their current 27 hybrid-electric sweepers. While many of these targets seem far out, there is still much work that needs to be done before then to trial this vehicle technology and get these models to market.

Hydrogen’s Exploratory Phase for Refuse

Many have come to know electric and hydrogen as the two zero emission solutions governments have begun to prioritize; however, in refuse applications, hydrogen solutions are still in their infancy – leaving many OEMs to figure out where they fit in. However, other organizations such as Cummins have already begun to build out the framework for hydrogen fuel cell prototypes abroad. As of June 24, 2020, Cummins supplied 20+ fuel cell engines to truck OEMs across Europe – inclusive of FAUN, a leading refuse provider.

But, needing more manufacturers to join the game, trial the technology, and deliver reliable solutions, refuse haulers will have to wait longer until hydrogen is ready to make its debut in the United States’ refuse market. As with electric, hydrogen is only eligible for grant funding in certain regions and incentivized under California’s LCFS and Oregon’s CFP. Without access to these funds, the economics do not support fleets making a hydrogen fuel cell conversion. While there are savings over the vehicle’s lifecycle regarding fuel and maintenance costs, like electric, hydrogen bears a steep upfront cost.

To Refuel, Recharge, or Both?

While many decarbonization strategies exist and continue to emerge for refuse haulers, each bears its own set of considerations. Whether looking for an established solution, willing to trial new technology, needing to meet stated goals, or having to stay within a strict budget, your transition to alternative fuel doesn’t have to be linear. Instead, your portfolio should come to life based on both your current operations and future goals.

If you’re looking to transition a portion (or all) of your fleet to alternative fuel or simply curious about how these solutions can be integrated into your operations, visit our fuel selector today Our team is here to help evaluate all available options and associated considerations.

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