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Following its decision to purchase 230 million gallon
equivalents of renewable
natural gas (RNG)
 to use between 2020 and 2026, UPS (NYSE:
) is acquiring vehicles to use the fuel. Big Brown announced on Oct. 9,
2019, that it deploy 6,000 natural-gas powered trucks starting next year as
part of a three-year agreement with Agility Fuel Solutions.

Agility has supplied natural gas fuel storage and delivery
systems for UPS since 2016, totaling more than 1,700 current UPS trucks. Under
terms of the $450-million agreement, Agility “will provide complete end-to-end
natural gas systems for heavy-duty gas trucks, terminal tractors and
medium-duty walk-in vans,” UPS said in a statement. These will include on-board
compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel storage and management and Agility’s
certified natural gas engine fuel systems.

“UPS continues to expand and improve our smart logistics
network by implementing new technologies and creating a highly flexible,
data-driven, and sustainable network,” Juan Perez, chief information and
engineering officer for UPS, said. “That is why we intend for 25% of our
vehicles purchased in 2020 to run on alternative fuels.”

Vehicles with CNG fuel systems can run either traditional CNG
or RNG. Since 2014, UPS ground fleets have consumed
28 million gallons
of RNG. UPS’ goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
by 12% in its ground fleets by 2025.

In 2018, UPS purchased more than 400 tractors and 330
terminal trucks running on CNG. The purchase occurred with the intention of
converting the liquified natural gas (LNG) and CNG fleets to RNG, forcing the
development of the infrastructure, including additional pipelines to increase
pipeline capacity of natural gas. 

The new agreement with Agility is in addition to UPS’s
current relationship with TruStar Energy, which is designing, manufacturing,
and installing five CNG fueling stations for the company. These are located in Lathrop,
Visalia and Moreno Valley, California; Houston, Texas; and Cleveland, Ohio.

By the end of this year, UPS said it will operate 61 natural
gas fueling stations throughout the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

As part of the agreement, Agility will also build natural
gas fueling stations for UPS.

“We are proud to continue our collaboration with UPS, a
front-runner in clean transportation,” Seung Baik, president of Agility Fuel
Solutions, said. “With our range of proven and reliable clean fuel technologies
and aftermarket support capabilities, we will assist UPS in reaching its
sustainability targets.”

UPS is not abandoning efforts to develop other fuels. Electric,
hybrid-electric and propane vehicles are part of UPS’s 10,000-plus low-emission
vehicle fleet. Over the past decade, UPS said it has invested more than $1
billion in alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles and fueling
stations. Vehicles are deployed on routes that make the most sense for the power

Natural gas, while not garnering the headlines electric is,
remains a viable fuel for fleets in the right applications.

“We work with a lot of fleets that have made significant
investments in natural gas because they have figured it out,” Erik Neandross,
CEO of Gladstein, Neandross
& Associates
(GNA), a consulting firm specializing in alternative fuel
vehicles and the organizers of ACT
, told FreightWaves earlier
this year
. “UPS is still making a $100 million investment in natural gas
each year. UPS doesn’t spend $100 million a year in technology that doesn’t
work. So, what have they figured out? They’ve figured out how to make it work
for them.”

Natural gas can reduce operational costs by 30% in some
applications, Neandross said, and may be a benefactor of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement last year that it would revisit and
potentially lower oxides of nitrogen (NOx) limits on trucks through its Cleaner
Trucks Initiative (CTI). Current NOx levels are set at 0.20 grams per brake
horsepower per hour. The
California Air Resources Board
(CARB) has led a coalition of states and
clean air groups in pushing EPA to revise and lower NOx limits, citing
technologies that are now available that can further decrease the emissions.
CARB has pushed for a 90% reduction in NOx. Interestingly, NGVAmerica, which
advocates for natural gas vehicles, said that natural gas Class 8 tractors
reduce NOx by 90% compared to today’s diesel engines.

“Natural gas is kind of yesterday’s news; people just don’t
get excited about it,” Neandross said. “The price of fuel in 2011, 2012 and
2013, when oil was up at $100-plus a barrel, [made natural gas] very, very
motivating. And you would think that the [lower] price of diesel being what it
is today would have a proportional negative impact. But frankly, what I see is
the interest [remains].”

Navigant Research has previously found that by 2022, nearly
400,000 natural gas-powered trucks and buses would be in operation globally, up
from 170,000 in 2013. By comparison, Navigant said there were only 31,000
electric trucks sold globally in 2016, and that figure is expected to rise to
just over 100,000 by 2020, with the compound annual growth globally of both
medium- and heavy-duty trucks about 9% through 2030.