Focus on Sustainability: Compressed Natural Gas Garbage Trucks

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The city of Phoenix has unveiled its new compressed natural gas (CNG) solid waste trucks, which collect trash and recyclables for nearly 400,000 Phoenix households. Currently, the Public Works Department operates six CNG solid waste trucks and within two months, 20 percent of its fleet of solid waste trucks will be CNG vehicles. John Trujillo, Acting Director of the Phoenix Public Works Department, will tell us more about the CNG trucks.

Ted Simons: Our focus tonight on sustainability issues looks at how the city of Phoenix is looking to run its fleet of garbage trucks on natural gas. Here to tell bus it is John Trujillo, acting director of the Phoenix public works department. Thanks for joining us.

John Trujillo: Thank you.

Ted Simons: let's start with defining terms. What is CNG fuel?

John Trujillo: There's different types of fuel. This is a compressed natural gas that we you -- that we use to fuel our current garbage trucks now, which is currently six.

Ted Simons: Are garbage trucks the only city vehicles with this, or are there other city vehicles?

John Trujillo: There's others that are utilizing compressed natural gas, but it's mostly smaller equipment. Smaller vehicles. Cars, trucks, that sort of thing. This is more of a heavier equipment that really we haven't done before to this extent. We have practiced and done some, which is we used LNG, now we have tried CNG. We fell the CNG fuel is the best way to go.

Ted Simons: Can power a big, old garbage truck and those arms that go up and down.

John Trujillo: yes, it can.

Ted Simons: Let's look at a garbage truck being fueled. It just looks like the same old thing as when you go to a gas station.

John Trujillo: you wouldn't notice the difference, but the drive gets out, gets a hose, when he gets back from his route he plugs it in and it starts fueling while he's off site. So it's an overnight process.

Ted Simons: Okay. It takes a while then.

John Trujillo: yes. About a six to ten hour process.

Ted Simons: those gauges basically show how much is being compressed, when you hit a certain spot, knock it off?

John Trujillo: It stops automatically. When they come to work in the morning they pull it off and go on their routes.

Ted Simons: were these diesel vehicles before?

John Trujillo: No, we're not retrofitting the equipment. As the older equipment goes away we bring in newer equipment for compressed natural gas technology.

Ted Simons: I was wondering what it cost to replace, the cost from what it was to what it is.

John Trujillo: it is a higher cost to purchase CNG garbage trucks versus the regular diesel trucks, however the cost of fuel compared between diesel and CNG, there's a big gap between the two. CNG currently is approximately $1.50 per gallon versus 3.50 for diesel.

Ted Simons: Interesting, I heard CNG described as an economically stable fuel.

John Trujillo: yes, it is. There's others too. Back in 2000, CNG and diesel were equal in cost, but between 2000 and now there's been a big spike in diesel and CNG has not spiked as much, so it's more stable fuel, easier to budget for compared to diesel.

Ted Simons: do we know why it has not spiked?

John Trujillo: I think because it's produced here domestically. It's not dependent on oil prices, on a global level, and this is based on natural gas prices on our local national level.

Ted Simons: we have seen the state dabble, better or worse at times, in compressed natural gas, trying to promote that particular operation, but when it comes to the city and garbage trucks, are there concerns with that kind of heavy machine rip on natural gas?

John Trujillo: No. We have been testing alternative fuels since 1994. So we have done CNG in the past, it hasn't worked well. The technology wasn't quite there yet. We tried liquefied natural gas and it didn't quite work. Now the technology has caught up. We have been testing CNG in our garbage trucks the last year and it's worked very well to this point.

Ted Simons: are there plans to switch more city vehicles to CNG?

John Trujillo: Yes, there are. We will by the ends of this year have 20% of our garbage trucks with compressed natural gas, and by 2015, 50% of our garbage trucks will be fueled by compressed natural gas, which we feel will be the largest municipal garbage trucks that will be fueled by compressed natural gas in the nation.

Ted Simons: was this mottled after other cities? Why was the push for CNG at this particular time?

John Trujillo: We have been doing this and other cities are using liquefied natural gas. A lot of them are going to compressed natural gas because it's more stable, more readily available. We have the infrastructure in place to do this now.

Ted Simons: it's a little quieter.

John Trujillo: It is a lot quieter. As you realize a lot of our residents put out garbage based on the sound of a garbage truck, so they have to be on their toes because it's a lot quieter.

Ted Simons: those arms still make a lot of noise.

John Trujillo: they do. They do.

Ted Simons: Alright so we will hear it come rumbling down the alley. Congratulations. Sounds like -- more ahead, correct?

John Trujillo: That's correct this is a ramped up process. Hopefully within by 2016, 2017 we could have 90% of our garbage trucks fueled by compressed natural gas.

Ted Simons: Thanks you for joining us. We appreciate it.

John Trujillo:Acting Director, Phoenix Public Works Department;

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