Cities and Waste Companies Explore Alternative Fuels

They are slow, lumbering beasts, lurching methodically along the streets collecting refuse, and some businesses and cities are looking at making them greener.

Trash and recycling trucks, stopping at driveway after driveway to collect their due, are undergoing tests in the Valley to see whether alternative fuels might be better solutions to burning diesel.

The city of Phoenix has been testing three collection trucks since spring that run on liquefied natural gas.

“They’re out. They’re working. They’re on their routes every day,” said Ron Serio, the city’s deputy director of public works.

Finding an alternative fuel source for vehicles that generally travel less than 20 miles per hour and get roughly 4 to 6 miles per gallon of fuel is tricky, but it could have some good results for the Valley’s air pollution problems.

Compressed natural gas, or CNG, is another particularly viable alternative.

“It’s getting a lot of attention for garbage trucks, but the technology has been around for years,” said Bob Wallace, principal and vice president of business solutions for WIH Resource Group in Phoenix.

WIH, which supplies environmental and logistical solutions for companies, has seen a good deal of interest in a study it did for Boise, Idaho, of what would happen if that city’s waste collection services used the alternative fuel. The research was sold to 25 cities, including Phoenix, for information about possible transitions to CNG.

The study found if CNG were expanded nationally to the estimated 136,000 trash and recycling trucks on the road, 27 billion fewer pounds of carbon dioxide would be pumped into the atmosphere. Such a move could help cities lower pollution levels, something the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working toward.

The EPA classifies Phoenix and Boise among the nation’s nonattainment areas when it comes to the amount of air pollution.

For any business or municipality looking to make a switch to CNG, Wallace said they have to realize trucks built to run on that fuel can cost $50,000 more than standard diesel-powered vehicles. It’s also costly to retrofit existing models to run on natural gas. Government assistance is available to cover most, but not all of that cost.

Alternatives gaining steam

Other emissions-related issues are driving the industry toward cleaner-burning fuels. In 2004, the federal government revised its standards on emissions from new diesel power plants.

Those standards were further tightened in 2007, and will be again in 2010. That could lead anyone with large fleets of diesel-powered vehicles to consider switching to alternative fuels, Wallace said.

“I think you’ll see it more and more,” he said.

Waste Management Inc. and Allied Waste Industries Inc., both based in the Valley, already have some of their fleet running on alternative fuels.

Don Cassano, government and community affairs director for Waste Management, said the company has tested and rolled out some of the vehicles in markets such as Southern California, where air-quality standards are tough, but it has not used it in the Valley.

Waste Management has found that, in addition to the extra cost, the trucks must carry smaller loads of trash to compensate for the heavier equipment they require to run on alternative fuels, Cassano said.

The city of Phoenix has noticed similar issues with its three liquid natural gas trucks. They are underpowered compared with their diesel counterparts, and it takes them about a half-hour longer to complete a similar route, Serio said.

While Phoenix’s tests are ongoing, the city learned it would need a new fueling infrastructure for the vehicles, and each of its repair shops would have to be modified to handle the technology, Serio said — a “fairly expensive” proposition.

The city is looking at different options for its fleet, particularly with new diesel regulations coming in 2010. It already is replacing retired vehicles with trucks that meet the 2007 standards, Serio said.

“We’ve used a lot of alternatively fueled vehicles in the past,” he said. “We use a lot of alternatives in our light-duty fleet, and we’re constantly looking at different options.”

Source: Phoenix Business Journal

Get Connected

WIH Resource Group: www.wihresourcegroup.com

Waste Management Inc.: www.wm.com

Allied Waste Industries Inc.: www.disposal.com

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