Natural gas in our renewable future

Open road in motion

Natural gas has been taking an increasingly central role in our energy supply over the past decades. In developed countries, the use of other fossil resources has stagnated or declined. In 2020, oil consumption in Organized for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is essentially what it was in 1995, and coal use has declined by almost half. In contrast, the consumption of natural gas has increased by 20% over the same period. In non-OECD countries, natural gas use has nearly tripled.

The rise of natural gas has been driven by the demand emanating from several sectors of activity, but by none more than the power generation sector. All over the developed world, coal power plants are being replaced by power plants, where natural gas powers gas turbines or large reciprocating engines. Wherever solar and wind farms are being installed in large quantities, more natural gas-fired power plants are built to balance out the intermittent nature of renewable energy. As such, natural gas has become a central piece of the transition toward renewable power.

Environmental benefits of natural gas

The replacement of coal and oil by natural gas as the fuel of choice for firm power generation is the result of several factors. First, natural gas is a much cleaner fuel. The use of coal at a power plant can results in significant local and regional air pollution. Their ash ponds can turn into major environmental disasters. Natural gas power generation generates no ash, causes no emissions of soot, heavy metals, and minimal emissions of sulfur. Smaller natural gas power plants can often operate without neighboring communities even noticing their existence. Natural gas turbines and reciprocating engines are also far more efficient than traditional coal-fired power plants. In effect this means that electricity generation from natural gas is significantly less carbon-intensive than electricity generation from other fuels.

For transportation applications, environmental benefits of natural gas engines include reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria air emissions, and prevention of harmful spills.

Abundancy of natural gas

Second, natural gas is abundant in many parts of the world. For countries that have them, relying on domestic natural gas resources rather than importing oil or coal strengthens energy security and reduces costs. In the United States, the production of natural gas has experienced a spectacular growth over the past decades. Other countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia and the Philippines have similarly benefited from the discovery and exploitation of domestic natural gas deposits. For countries not blessed with such resources, importing natural gas is a way to limit their reliance on oil imports, which results in comparable benefits from an energy security standpoint.

For transportation applications, this abundancy results in economic benefits associated with natural gas engines in terms of fuel pricing and price stability.

Economic benefits of natural gas

Finally, natural gas is usually cheaper than petroleum fuels. In the United States, natural gas can be even more affordable than domestically mined coal. It is, in fact, so cheap, that may coal-fired power plants have converted their combustion systems to burn natural gas rather than coal.

Most of these benefits flow from the intrinsic properties of natural gas. As a result, they are also at play in other sectors, such as residential heating and, of course, transportation.

Today, you can already find many examples of natural gas engines in trucks and buses in the transportation sector. Meanwhile, natural gas still has more opportunities to displace petroleum fuels in the transportation sector just to the extent that it has replaced coal and oil in the power generation sector by leveraging all of its positive attributes such as cleanliness, abundance and affordability.

Because of these attributes, natural gas will be a key part of the transition towards CO2-free transportation. One day, power generation may become entirely decarbonized thanks to technologies such as solar panels, energy storage and electrolysis. Likewise, most cars, trucks, airplanes and boats may one day run on CO2-free fuels such as hydrogen and e-fuels manufactured domestically using renewable energy. In the meantime, natural gas engines are an essential part of the transition. Its use enables the deployment of fully CO2-free technologies and, at the same time, provides real and immediate environmental benefits.
 

 

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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

Natural gas is well-positioned to fuel vehicles for today’s energy transition

truck on highway

Natural gas powers more than 175,000 vehicles in the United States and 23 million vehicles worldwide. It’s an ideal alternative to gasoline and diesel for heavy and medium-duty applications. These include freight-hauling trucks, buses, and garbage trucks. Natural gas engines provide horsepower, acceleration, and cruise speed comparable to conventional fossil fuel engines. This fuel can also replace gasoline in smaller applications, such as forklifts and commercial lawn equipment. 

Natural gas engines reduce emissions and environmental risks

Many companies are setting carbon reduction targets for tailpipe emissions. Fleets can meet these requirements by replacing older vehicles or generators that run on diesel to new ones that use natural gas. 

Switching to natural gas can reduce hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The size of the reduction depends on vehicle type, duty cycle, and engine calibration. Vehicles that use compressed natural gas (CNG) can reduce their GHG emissions by 13-18%. That percentage is a lot higher when using renewable natural gas (RNG) or a blend between the two gases. 

Natural gas vehicles offer additional air quality and environmental justice benefits too. They emit almost no particulate matter, volatile organic compounds or carbon monoxide which lead to poor air quality.

There are also other environmental risks that can be eliminated. For example, natural gas can’t spill because it’s lighter than air. It doesn’t puddle or cause ground contamination like a diesel or gasoline spill would.

Renewable natural gas is a carbon neutral fuel alternative

RNG is manufactured from agricultural by-products and organic waste from food manufacturing, farming and groceries. The systems needed to fuel a vehicle with RNG or with fossil natural gas are identical. Both fuels are interchangeable and can be blended. National, state and local incentives for RNG projects are also available. RNG is considered a carbon neutral fuel and it can even be carbon negative when using waste from landfills -that’s at least a 100% GHG reduction! 

RNG provides more benefits than CNG. Methane (CH4) from a landfill or a wastewater treatment facility is typically vented into the atmosphere. Its global warming potential (GWP) is more than 25 times greater than CO2. That makes capturing and refining methane into a fuel for natural gas engines a better alternative. 

Enabling fleets to more affordable engine solutions with natural gas

Natural gas engines meet stringent environmental standards with less complicated emissions controls. As a result, they offer an affordable advantage over diesel engines.

Additional cost savings can be achieved by converting conventional vehicles to run on natural gas. Kits are available to retrofit existing fleets. And automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) offer natural gas versions of their medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

Natural gas refueling stations also can be less expensive to construct than those for hydrogen (H2) or electric vehicles. Their proven equipment and systems are less complex.

National gas also allows fleets to better predict operational costs. The fuel itself costs less than gasoline and diesel. In some areas, natural gas can even be half of the price of diesel. These prices have remained relatively flat for 20 years. This helps fleet operators by being able to reliably forecast monthly and yearly natural gas costs.

Expanding the natural gas supply for national energy independence

The United States has an estimated 2,926 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to last about 98 years. In 2021, 64% of all on-road fuel used in natural gas engines was renewable natural gas. That percentage increases in California, where it’s 98%. The growing use of RNG further diversifies domestic energy supplies. 

Natural gas is readily available through established distribution channels. Supplies are so abundant that natural gas is also compressed and exported. It moves across the United States through a pipeline network that links production areas and storage facilities with 77 million customers.

Compressor stations utilize natural gas engines to keep fuel flowing to distribution companies. They deliver natural gas to consumers through small-diameter, lower-pressure service lines.

Natural gas is available at nearly 900 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. Another 60 liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling stations are located in areas that service long-haul trucks. 

Refueling is done at:

  • Fast-fill stations, where natural gas vehicles can fill up in about the same time it takes to refuel gas and diesel vehicles
  • Long-fill stations, where natural gas vehicles slowly fill up overnight or during extended breaks between trips

In summary, natural gas engines can help fleets lower their total transportation emission and operating costs without major disruptions to their day-to-day operations. Natural gas, as a fuel, has a key role to play in our renewable future.  

Traci Kraus headshot

Traci Kraus

Traci Kraus is a Director of Government Relations where she leads US federal advocacy for Cummins. She focuses on energy, climate, hydrogen, transportation and budget legislative and regulatory issues. 

Prior to joining Cummins, Traci worked for former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.  She has a Master’s in Public Administration from the George Washington University and B.A.s in Government and Politics and Communication from the University of Maryland in College Park. She is originally from Chicago, and now lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Aaron and two children Liam (8) and Sloane (5).

How is the United States investing in clean energy?

GR hero

Our planet is facing a dire crisis: carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to soar above record highs. If gone unaddressed, the collective stress of climate change will produce an irreparable impact. Our health, energy, water, and food ecosystems are at risk. 

As it stands, there are many long-term effects of climate change. In North America, climate change is forecasted to cause decreasing snowpack in the western mountains. It will also lead to a 5–20% increase in yields of rain-fed agriculture and great intensity of heat waves. In fact, over the last five years, the United States has incurred roughly $120 billion a year in damages as a result of natural disasters caused by extreme weather and climate events.

Beyond natural catastrophes, climatic risks to the United States will have a cascading effect on the country’s interconnected ecosystems. Reduced labor and overall economic productivity, and altered crop yields, will disproportionately harm lower-income and marginalized populations. These groups lack the resources to prepare or cope with extreme weather and climate events.

The world is investing in clean energy innovation

Combating the intensifying climate crisis requires a strategic combination of research and development (R&D), innovation, technology — and bold attempts.

Around the globe, countries are investing in clean energy to contribute to a livable planet now and for generations to come. In 2022, the US passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a historic $370 billion investment to address the climate crisis. The Inflation Reduction Act provides tax credits and incentives to power homes, businesses, and communities with clean energy by 2030. The Act will increase investments in the fastest-growing power generation technologies, solar and wind. It will also advance cost-saving clean energy projects and protect two million acres of national forests. These initiatives are in addition to substantial tax credits and rebates offered to families and businesses in the United States.
Consequently, a stronger clean energy economy will contribute to overall economic growth and competition. As a result, there will be millions of new well-paying jobs for Americans to make clean energy.

It is possible to start decarbonizing now

Governmental policy strategies and investments in decarbonization technologies are part of the solution to produce increasingly cheap, dependable, and clean energy.

Strong communities and vibrant economies depend on a healthier planet. As a global power technology leader, Cummins is in a unique position to power customer success by leading during this energy transition. We intent to do so by providing customers with the right technology at the right time, understanding of their needs and applications.

We think of this journey to carbon neutrality in two distinct and complementary ways. First, by innovating zero-emission solutions and introducing them in markets and applications where the infrastructure, development and deployment are ready. Secondly, by advancing internal combustion engines through efficiency improvement and by running them on cleaner alternative fuels for a well-to-wheels solution.

Through Destination Zero, we are advancing low- and no-carbon platforms. This includes diesel and natural gas engines, hybrid, and electric platforms, as well as powertrain components, controls, and related technologies.

Join Cummins in powering a better tomorrow

Cummins environmental sustainability strategy includes goals timed for 2030. Progress toward the reduction of carbon emissions from company plants and facilities — in addition to our products — is in full swing. For more than one hundred years, we have brought technological solutions to market. As a power solutions leader, we will continue to power a more prosperous world for today and tomorrow. Are you ready to consider investing in new power solutions?

Traci Kraus headshot

Traci Kraus

Traci Kraus is a Director of Government Relations where she leads US federal advocacy for Cummins. She focuses on energy, climate, hydrogen, transportation and budget legislative and regulatory issues. 

Prior to joining Cummins, Traci worked for former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.  She has a Master’s in Public Administration from the George Washington University and B.A.s in Government and Politics and Communication from the University of Maryland in College Park. She is originally from Chicago, and now lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Aaron and two children Liam (8) and Sloane (5).

Economic and Operational Benefits of Propane Engines

semi trucks driving on highway

Propane is a low carbon energy source commonly used in millions of homes across the country for cooking, home heating, hot water and many other applications. It can also be used as a clean vehicle fuel in medium duty applications including school buses, delivery and beverage fleets, paratransit vehicles and more.

Thousands of fleet owners choose propane autogas because it offers many environmental, economic and operational benefits. With new technology like the Cummins B6.7 propane engine, fleet owners can experience the power of diesel while producing less greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, ultimately saving on operations costs.

Propane is a clean fuel

In testing, the Cummins B6.7 propane engine delivered the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any propane autogas-powered engine. It will also deliver some of the lowest GHG emissions in the medium-duty market. It is an ultra-low, .02 NOx engine that will meet or exceed EPA and CARB regulations in 2024 and beyond.

For fleets and other end users looking to meet environmental goals, renewable propane is available in the market. It has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane. It has an even lower carbon intensity than conventional propane because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials. This fuel can be used in any existing propane autogas engine or propane autogas infrastructure. Therefore, fleet owners will be able to easily implement this cleaner energy source in their own vehicles.

Propane is an abundant domestically produced fuel

Approximately 30 billion gallons of propane are produced annually in the United States and about 80% of U.S. propane is produced during the natural gas refining process. Because of that, its price is decoupled from the price of crude oil set by the global market.

Propane is an abundant and portable natural resource in North America. It can be distributed in liquid form using ships, rail cars, trucks and via pipelines. Best of all, propane is an environmentally friendly energy source. When compared with other options like diesel or gasoline, propane can significantly reduce harmful emissions.

Since propane is produced in the U.S., the domestic supply is shielded from global geopolitical and economic shocks. Unlike gasoline and diesel, it provides a reliable energy source for business owners.

Propane engines provide low total operating costs

Due to propane’s widespread and long-standing usage, propane autogas engines are a mature technology. The B6.7 propane engine will be built on Cummins’ fuel agnostic platform, meaning many parts are shared across an array of other engines. This will help reduce cost and complexity to the customer in terms of vehicle acquisition, integration of lower carbon fuel types, and vehicle maintenance.

As a vehicle fuel, propane autogas is affordable and typically costs as much as 50 percent less than diesel. The wholesale cost of propane autogas falls between the price of oil and natural gas, which are the fuel’s two sources. Because of this, propane autogas prices don’t fluctuate as sharply as other fuels, so fleet owners are able to easily manage fuel budgets.

Additionally, there is no need for an exhaust treatment system. That’s because propane is a clean energy source that produces 20 times less nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions than diesel. The B6.7 propane engine is instead fitted with a maintenance-free, three-way catalyst exhaust system.

Due to the cost-effectiveness of the fuel and reduced maintenance costs, propane autogas provides fleet owners with the lowest total cost of ownership. Propane autogas engines like the Cummins B6.7 propane will provide a strong return on investment and a low cost per mile.

Propane engines offer a simple refueling experience

A benefit of propane autogas that many fleet owners may not immediately think about is the ease and affordability of refueling. Fleets can choose from several refueling options. Each one offers distinct advantages that help a company identify and customize a solution that best fits its business and maximizes productivity.

Options range from private on-site stations that are fully scalable to meet the demands of a fleet, to temporary field stations to employ around a site in the field. Some fleets can even use any of the more than 2,800 public refueling stations around the country. Best of all, propane suppliers will often lease the refueling infrastructure to a fleet in exchange for a fuel contract that locks in a set price per gallon for a duration beneficial to both parties.

Fleet owners must consider what energy source will best meet their environmental, economic, and operational needs. With new propane autogas innovations, the Cummins B6.7 propane engine becomes an attractive solution.


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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

How much renewable natural gas is out there?

sun rising over field

There are over 23 million natural gas vehicles in the world, including over 175,000 in the United States. Of these, 64% of all on-road fuel used in these vehicles in 2021 was renewable natural gas (RNG), according to industry trade group, NGV Americas. That percentage increases in California, where it’s 98%. Unlike regular natural gas, RNG is not obtained from fossil resources and constitutes a carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative fuel. However, the amount of available organic feedstock from which RNG can be made is finite. So, how much RNG can be made exactly from existing and potential resources? Let’s take a look.

RNG availability today and tomorrow

RNG is made from biogas, which is the product of a biological process known as anaerobic fermentation. It’s obtained when the undesirable components of biogas, such as CO2 and nitrogen, are removed.

A variety of organic materials feed the biogas-producing bacteria. In many cases, RNG is made opportunistically at facilities which generate a feedstock as a by-product of their operation. Wastewater treatment plants and dairy farms can produce RNG using sewage sludge and manure. Another option is to process food waste into biogas and RNG. Although only are only a few RNG companies, more are seeking to increase production.

The Argonne National Laboratory’s database captures the total annual RNG production capacity in the United States. In 2021, production capacity was about 660 million gallons gasoline equivalents (GGE). That’s a 20% increase compared to the previous year. This is a lot of RNG, yet still just a fraction. -about 3% - of the total natural gas consumption each year in the country, beyond solely vehicles’ consumption. 

It may be possible to increase the production of RNG in the United States—and in other countries—by orders of magnitude. According to a study quoted by the American Gas Association, the US could have the potential to produce up to 36 billion GGE equivalent of RNG each year by 2040. If all of it was used in transportation applications, it would be enough to fuel about two thirds of all diesel vehicles in the country.

How is RNG transported and distributed? 

Producing RNG is only part of the challenge of making RNG more available. RNG also needs to be transported and distributed to end-users. Compared to other alternative fuels, RNG has many advantages. RNG is, chemically, nearly identical to natural gas obtained from fossil resources. Therefore, RNG can be injected into the existing natural gas transportation and distribution infrastructure, as long as it meets each pipeline’s specifications. End users can also purchase RNG from RNG producers and receive natural gas from utility companies. They can claim that they are, effectively, using RNG. In the United States, 3 million miles of distribution lines and over 300,000 miles of transportation pipelines are ready to accept in-spec RNG and deliver it to customers. That’s something which hydrogen producers and users can only dream of. 

How many RNG refueling stations are there?

Finally, RNG needs to make its way into the tank of vehicles. The systems needed to fuel a vehicle with RNG or with fossil natural gas are identical. Both fuels are interchangeable and can be blended. 

However, the network of natural gas fueling stations is less dense than the one for gasoline or diesel. There are about 1,500 public and private stations dispending compressed natural gas in the United States, compared to over 150,000 gas stations with gasoline or diesel. Most of the RNG supply is sent to states with low carbon fuel credits for natural gas. Right now, only California, Oregon and Washington state offer these credits, so suppliers prioritize shipping fuel to them. Fleets can check with their local fuel provider to find out the exact source of their natural gas.  

Businesses who wish to switch their vehicles to RNG often opt to construct a fueling facility on their own premises. These businesses may choose from several categories of fuel pumps dispensing compressed natural gas or compressed RNG. For on-site refueling, most businesses will choose time-fill stations. Time fill systems are best suited for vehicles that can complete a day’s shift on a single tank before ‘going home’ for the night to be refilled. Time-fill stations offer more flexibility and efficiency for fleet managers who can make the most of off-peak electricity rates at night.

Did you know that RNG can offset fuel costs?

RNG can also be produced and used locally. Certain businesses have the option to integrate the production and use of fuel as part of their normal operations. Some waste management companies, for example, gather biogas emanating from landfills they manage. The biogas is refined into RNG, and then used to fuel their garbage collection fleet. This can result in net negative greenhouse gas emissions. The methane emissions that would otherwise make their way into the atmosphere from the landfills are avoided. That’s a huge decarbonization effort considering that methane is greenhouse gas several times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and it’s essentially free fuel for the refuse company.

California leads the way on RNG use and production

RNG made up 98% of the total natural gas vehicle fuel consumption in 2021 in California, according to the government. That’s up from 92% in 2020.

A local waste management company, the City of Perris, operates one of the largest organic waste digesters ever built. Using residential waste such as yard waste and food scraps, it produces about 1 million GGE of RNG every year. Some of that RNG fuels the garbage collection fleet and the rest is sold via an interconnection to the local natural gas network. 

It is not by chance that RNG is so popular in the state. California’s carbon reduction and air quality policies (i.e. Low-Carbon Fuel Standard) have heavily incentivized fleets to use RNG as an alternative to traditional natural gas and petroleum fuels. As other states such as Oregon, Washington and Colorado consider similar rules, the likelihood is high that the appetite for RNG will continue to grow. If you want to learn more, read about the different factors to consider when switching to natural gas engines.


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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

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