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California Looking to Zero-Emission Trucks for Clean Air

Imagine conquering air pollution in California. Until now, we did not have the technology to get to clean air. Now, we can do it with battery-electric technology, hydrogen fuel cells and advanced natural gas engines.

California still suffers from the worst air pollution in the country. Thousands of people die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air in our state. The economic costs of the public health crisis caused by air pollution are astronomical.

When it comes to air pollution, our biggest problem is heavy-duty trucks and equipment. Nearly all of our trucks and “off-road” vehicles and equipment run on diesel fuel, which results in high levels of smog, particulate pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals. Thanks to technological advances, we have alternatives.

Road to zero emissions

Most air quality experts know we will have clean air, but the question is when. We can wait for battery-electric and fuel cell technology to advance and provide zero tailpipe emissions or we can move forward now with advanced heavy-duty natural gas engines. Unfortunately, it may take decades if we wait for zero tailpipe emission technologies.

Battery-electric heavy-duty trucks currently have limited range and are expensive. Heavy-duty fuel cell trucks can go farther than their battery electric counterparts but they are in the early stages of development and their cost has yet to be determined. While environmentalists and regulators envision a logistics system that uses only solar power and other renewable sources to move freight, we currently rely more on natural gas than any other source for our electricity and hydrogen.

When it comes to natural gas, we have two major problems — climate concerns and air pollution. Renewable natural gas can come from landfills, waste water treatment plants and organic waste digesters. Because California has policies to incentivize the use of renewable natural gas, there are companies that will provide this climate friendly fuel for heavy-duty trucks and equipment. On the air pollution front, the newest heavy-duty natural gas engines have “near-zero” emissions, 90 percent cleaner than the cleanest trucks on the road today.

Two-truck solution

If we want to save lives, improve air quality and protect against climate change, we need a two-track solution. We must continue to invest in the development of zero tailpipe emission heavy-duty trucks and equipment and renewable energy. We should use zero emission technologies wherever and whenever feasible. At the same time, we should secure the near-term benefits of advanced natural gas heavy-duty engines using low-carbon renewable fuels. Doing so will get us to clean air as quickly as possible.

Joe Lyou, President and CEO, Coalition for Clean Air, [email protected]

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