These days, car manufacturers are spending millions scurrying to convert a portion of the cars and trucks they make to hybrid and electric power. Government regulations, not consumer demand, have driven car manufacturers that direction -- and it seems inevitable that future cars and trucks will not only be more fuel-efficient, but also significantly more expensive.

But is the direction we are headed the right direction? Will it result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people?

A new white paper, released by Energy Vision, which bills itself as a leading educator on alternative energy issues, suggests that it isn’t. Its study finds that the millions of trucks and buses on American roadways are the best starting point for ending the widely acknowledged dangers of U.S. transportation’s dependence on oil. It also describes a strategy for transitioning medium- and heavy-duty cars toward sustainable fuel, and it identifies pending legislation that can influence this shift.

While the country’s 10 million trucks and buses constitute only 4 percent of all road vehicles, they consume an astounding 23 percent of highway fuel (13 percent of the U.S. total), according to Energy Vision President Joanna Underwood. Trucks and buses also emit 26 percent of highway-related carbon dioxide, and they generate large proportions of urban air pollutants -- so these vehicles greatly outweigh (on a per-vehicle basis) the impact of lighter passenger vehicles, she said.

Does Energy Vision recommend electrifying the U.S. truck and bus fleet? That’s a natural assumption, based on Energy Vision’s acronym (EV). But the conclusion would be wrong. Instead, EV advocates converting the U.S. medium- and heavy-duty fleet to natural gas.

“There is one non-petroleum fuel for trucks and buses that is domestic, plentiful, affordable, clean, and in its renewable form fully sustainable,” explained Underwood. “This fuel is natural gas, and the renewable, chemically-identical form of natural gas made from organic wastes is biomethane.”

EV’s white paper points out that proven natural gas vehicle (NGV) technologies already exist, so trucks and buses can make the fuel shift to both forms of natural gas with reasonably little effort compared to switching to other fuel sources. While the U.S. has been behind many other countries in adopting natural gas vehicles (only 110,000 NGVs currently operate in the U.S.), more than 11 million are in service worldwide. Compared with hybridization, a conversion to natural gas is quick and relatively inexpensive.

A shift to natural gas for larger vehicles will help satisfy four national goals: national security, job growth and economic strength, public health and climate protection.

Some 48 percent of the nation’s net oil imports are controlled by the unpredictable policies of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and there is increasingly fierce competition from China and other developing countries for diminishing world supplies. A move toward natural gas, which is plentiful in the United States, can prevent oil price and supply disruptions. If aggressively developed, biomethane (a “renewable fuel”) could displace all diesel fuel, says EV.

The outflow of more than $1 billion per day for oil imports, the related loss of more than two million domestic jobs, the impact of oil companies’ tax breaks on government revenues, and oil-related defense expenditures have all sapped the U.S. economy, according to the white paper. A strategy of using domestic natural gas and producing domestic biomethane can bring home billions of dollars that are now flowing to the foreign suppliers of oil. It will also stimulate hundreds of thousands of new jobs through the expansion of natural gas and biomethane industries.

Air quality in areas where 157 million Americans live does not meet public health standards. By shifting large vehicles to natural gas, we can eliminate one of the leading sources of urban pollution, said researchers involved with the study. Furthermore, when it comes to climate, buses and trucks are the largest per-vehicle emitters of greenhouse gases. A switch to the sustainable form of natural gas, biomethane, could lead to carbon neutrality.

According to EV, two bills pending in Congress -- the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions (NAT GAS) bill and the Biogas Production Incentives bill -- contain the kind of incentives that are essential to building natural gas vehicle and renewable natural gas industries and markets.

“These incentives,” said Underwood, “can drive the acceleration of phase one of this country’s green fuels revolution. The bills deserve to be promptly passed. This opportunity is too important to miss.”

Tom Ripley Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes frequently about world energy policy, the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.



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