Reducing the output of greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most critical responses to climate change. There is an urgent global need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Year by year, energy needs are growing in Canada. To combat this, we need to continually evolve and adapt new technologies to reduce our carbon footprint. Alternative fuels are one way towards a cleaner environment.
Lets start by explaining fossil fuels. They are called fossil fuels because they were formed from the fossilized, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. The remains of these organisms didn’t decay because they were pushed under water or mud with no oxygen. When we burn fossil fuels, we release the solar energy that was originally captured by photosynthesis and along with it massive amounts of greenhouse gas.
The benefits of more carbon-neutral energy and the problems of fossil fuels have been known for decades. Why hasn’t anything been done? Why do we continue to rely on over 80% of our energy from fossil fuels still? The reasons are convenience and efficiency.
Canada’s GNG emissions by sector
As depicted by the chart, transportation and the oil/gas are the sectors that created the most GHG emissions in 2019. They each accounted for 26% of all the GNG emissions produced in Canada. The transportation and waste sectors are similar in that most of the GNG emissions are produced by vehicles. These sectors could see an impact by transitioning and introducing compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), and renewable natural gas (RNG).
Compressed Natural Gas
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a fuel gas made of natural gas. CNG production involves compressing natural gas to less than 1% of its volume. It is then stored and distributed in containers that can maintain a constant pressure on it.
Liquefied Natural Gas
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is another alternative fuel. LNG is a natural gas that has been cooled down to liquid form. In this liquid form, LNG takes up 1/600th the volume of natural gas in gaseous state.
Renewable Natural Gas
Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is a carbon-neutral fuel. Natural gas consists mainly of methane. The methane required to create RNG comes from the decomposition of organic matter. It then goes through a purification process that produces clean, low-carbon RNG. At this stage, RNG is identical to fossil, natural gas and can be compressed or liquefied to be used as fuel in transportation.
Natural Gas Hurdles
When natural gas is used in vehicles modified to accept natural gas or in vehicles built to use natural gas, it emits up to 30% less GNG as normal gasoline vehicles. Natural gas vehicles also emit virtually no particulate matter which is a harmful microscopic component of air pollution. In the case of a spill, natural gas also poses less of a threat and safety hazard because it is lighter than air and disperses quickly when released. These are all great benefits to using natural gas but the widespread use of Natural Gas in fleets and for transportation still have three hurdles to go through.
- Cost effectiveness:
- In the long run, converting to CNG vehicles and fleets is more cost effective however the cost associated with producing a CNG vehicle is much more than a gasoline vehicle. It could take 3-4 years or more depending on gas usage to recoup the difference.
- Not enough infrastructure to supply end users with natural gas supplies. In Canada, there is a recent interest in expansion of CNG and LNG gas stations but these stations must continue to see use and expand.
- Pipeline Leaks:
- Methane leakage from the natural gas industry prior to being used as a fuel for transportation, eliminates some of the greenhouse gas reductions.
It is without a doubt that natural gases provide an immediate and drastic reduction in greenhouse gas released in the transportation sector. If industries and governments continue the development and expansion of landfill-gas-capture systems, renewable natural gas projects, and recycling facilities, we could see more widespread use.
Natural Gas & Alternatives in Waste Management
Waste management & Others produce 7% of GNG emissions in Canada. Although, the total emissions aren’t as much as some of the other industries, waste management companies can contribute to sustainability by using natural gases in their truck fleets and garbage collection trucks.
As an example, we at E360S, are always looking to invest in new technology that will help our customers lower their carbon footprint. Ever since 2019, we have owned and operated CNG waste truck fleets. In Kelowna, we also have a CNG fuelling station that not only fuels our residential curbside garbage pickup fleet but also provides public access to anyone to fill their fleets, 24 hours a day. After picking up the waste, our trucks will deliver the waste specifically to landfills that can convert the most amount of organic matter into renewable natural gas.
Electric waste vehicles are also seeing traction in the waste world. For example, companies like Mack and Lion Electric have both developed Electric lines for waste refuse trucks. The Mack LR Electric refuse trucks started commercial production this year. These developments away from petrol vehicles and towards electric-powered vehicles help the waste sector shift away from fossil fuels almost completely.
Looking to the Future at Electric Vehicles
With the gradual adoption of battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology, there will more incentives for electric vehicles (EV). We can already see that there is a significant move to electric passenger vehicles with brands like Tesla and General Motors indicated commitment towards an all EV future. We still have a way to go because electric vehicles are new at a commercial scale and the infrastructure to support these systems isn’t fully fleshed out yet (issues of cost, charging speed, range). If all vehicles in Canada were transitioned to electric overnight, we would see an emission decrease.
To take it a step further though, we would need to ensure that the energy the electric vehicles and fleets use is generated from low carbon power. A coal-powered electric vehicle would see much less reduction in greenhouse gas emission (30%) compared to one that runs its lifetime on renewable energy (80%).
To move towards the decarbonization of the transportation sector, the Canadian government has established Zero Emission Vehicles sales targets of 100% by 2040. That means that Canada targets 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2040.
Electric cars are far from perfect, but traditional petrol vehicles can’t compete in terms of carbon emission; if we can get the proper energy sources, we could definitely see significant positive changes to our climate and emissions rate in Canada.
Those pushing to end fossil fuel production now are missing the point that fossil fuels will still be needed for some time in certain sectors. Eliminating unpopular energy sources is short sighted. We need to create channels that make using natural gases more appealing (increasing the convenience, cost effectiveness and efficiency) while we analyze our options at hand and pair that up with humanity’s ability for creativity and practicality to create a step by step process that will push us towards sustainability. Our ability to innovate and create efficient solutions are the true renewable resources we as humans have.