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MANTECA — As e-commerce becomes a bigger part of our economy, especially in the Central Valley, the logistics industry has come under criticism for the amount of fuel it takes to truck products, the air pollution those trucks generate and the electricity huge fulfillment centers use.
But the industry is responding with green initiatives.
For example, Amazon.com has begun installing solar panels on its fulfillment centers in Patterson and Tracy.
Manteca trucking company Mountain Valley Express has announced it is purchasing nine low-emission natural gas trucks.
“We are of a mindset here that we know alternative fuel options is going to be the drive for California going forward,” said Mountain Valley Express CEO Scott Blevins. “We always look at how forward we can be and progressive in regards to the type of vehicles we put on the road for being environmental stewards and being a good part of the community.”
The company has bought nine low-nitrogen oxide 8.9-liter ISL G near-zero engine fuel trucks for its fleet. Redeem brand renewable natural gas from Clean Energy Fuels will power the trucks.
The company expects the trucks will decrease the amount of nitrogen oxide, or NOx, emissions, which is what causes smog, by up to 90 percent when compared with a diesel truck. Not only are they better for the environment, but making the switch is not complicated.
The natural gas diesels operate much like a diesel truck. Drivers don’t need formal training to operate them. The fuel economy is similar as well, as is the amount of time it takes to fill a tank.
“The only difference is how to hook up the nozzle and a couple other little things,” said Clean Energy Fuels Business Development Manager Jeff Wittenberger. “The carburetor and how you start the pump is exactly the same as gasoline or diesel, and it doesn’t require much training or formal training. The driving is exactly the same as driving a diesel. There’s really no difference.”
Stations to fill natural gas trucks aren’t as readily available as stations that offer diesel fuel. But Blevins said Clean Energy has fueling stations spread throughout Mountain Valley’s footprint, which played “a huge role” in the company’s decision to purchase the trucks.
“What we’re finding is that they’re pretty much everywhere that we need to be to refuel on a daily basis,” said Blevins. “The driver would actually be the one pulling in there and refueling.”
Because of the decrease in NOx put emitted by a natural gas truck, state and local air pollution control districts support natural gas trucks.
““It’s something that we definitely want to promote, particularly in the near term,” said San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Program Manager Todd DeYoung. “Ultimately, we want to get to zero-emission vehicles — hydrogen, electric, battery — that sort of technology. But we see natural gas playing a critical role in the interim as we work toward those zero emission technologies.”
Natural gas vehicle is currently more expensive. According to DeYoung, it can cost around $200,000 for each vehicle. That’s about $40,000 more than a comparable diesel truck. But there are state and local air pollution control district programs to subsidize some of that cost.
DeYoung said the local air district is offering up to $100,000 per vehicle to help offset the cost. As part of that, trucking companies must trade in a diesel truck that qualifies, which means the company is trading in a vehicle that produces more NOx for one that produces 90 percent less.
“The state is funding the majority of the cost of these units,” said Blevins. “We have to pay the balance, the difference, and what we found in the diesel engine tractor similar to these units is probably $40,000 less in price, so there certainly is an upcharge in the natural gas vehicle. But with the state funding that’s available, it helps us make that decision.”
More companies appear ready to adapt to natural gas. UPS recently announced it will invest $90 million in natural gas vehicles and infrastructure.
“It’s growing, and I think it’ll continue to grow,” said Clean Energy Fuels’ Wittenberger. “These low NOx are really the future in that they produce 90 percent less NOx than a comparable diesel engine, and that’s the stuff that causes smog.”
As part of another initiative to increase renewable energy, Amazon announced that it is installing solar panels on its fulfillment and sorting centers.
Amazon’s Patterson facility already has solar panels installed on its roof that cover more than three-quarters of its 1.1 million square feet. Depending on the specific project, time of year and other factors, the solar panels could provide up to 80 percent of a fulfillment facility’s annual energy needs.
Amazon is in the process of adding solar to one of its Tracy fulfillment centers as well.