By Karen Graham & James Saunders
Natural gas vehicles are on the cusp of spurring one of the largest shifts in on-road transportation fuels, but the market is developing and there is much to learn about the economic, environmental and energy security impacts of such a shift. To help answer a critical question – what is the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) impact of large-scale deployment of natural gas vehicles? – Westport has joined an important, multi-partner study. Initiated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and conducted by the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE) at West Virginia University (WVU), this research is co-sponsored by fuel producers, providers, manufacturers and fleet operators and will measure the methane leakage from various elements of the natural gas value chain for commercial and heavy duty on-road transportation.
This “pump to wheels” study is the second study of a five-module research effort coordinated by the EDF on the impacts of methane leakage along a range of pathways from the well to end uses along the fuel chain. Details of the study may be found on the West Virginia University website. The results will be peer reviewed, and a report is expected to be released in late 2013 or early 2014.
Westport is participating in the EDF study to advance understanding of the GHG emission reduction benefits of commercial and heavy duty natural gas vehicles and fueling stations. Studies like this, with a range of industry partners like Shell, Volvo, Westport, Cummins Westport and fleet operators offer the opportunity to collect data under real-world operating conditions. WVU’s involvement means that the findings will be rigorously peer-reviewed and will contribute to academic and industry knowledge.
Westport’s market and environmental leadership position demands that we lead by example in participating in research that will help understand the emissions implications of natural gas vehicles. Natural gas is the least carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels. As developers of engine products that use a relatively new transportation fuel, this is a good opportunity to better measure the methane emissions of our products in the field, and we welcome more data in this area. The study findings may help guide Westport’s designers and engineers as we improve the next generation of natural gas engines and fuel systems.
Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is a more potent GHG than carbon dioxide and there is opportunity to minimize methane emissions at all stages in the transportation fuel chain. While fossil natural gas is a relatively new fuel for transportation in North America, it’s a fuel that will be with us for generations (domestic US production of conventional and unconventional natural gas is expected to reach 34 quadrillion Btu in 2040, according to the US Energy Information Administration), particularly as renewable sources evolve and become commercial in scale.
The EDF study will advance industry knowledge about the GHG emission reduction benefits of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles. Each of the modules will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the potential for methane leakage and opportunities for improvement.