Early Adoption Leaders
Canadian transits were early adoption leaders in regards to natural gas transit buses. The world’s first natural gas transit buses were developed in 1985 and involved the conversion of seven diesel buses to compressed natural gas (CNG) operation. Hamilton Street Railway took the initiative to develop the technology with support from the federal and provincial governments, engine manufacturer Cummins, natural gas distribution company Union Gas, and ORTECH, a provincial government research organization. Municipal transit operations in Toronto, London, Mississauga, Burlington, Cornwall, and Kitchner-Waterloo soon followed Hamilton’s lead
and purchased first generation CNG buses.
There were a number of challenges for the early adopters in terms of vehicle performance, securing support for technical issues, lack of funding to upgrade from early generation engine technologies, station issues, and withdrawal of support from the gas distribution industry following deregulation. Nonetheless, it is well understood that the early CNG transit leaders played an important role. Without their support, natural gas transit buses would likely not have advanced so quickly to the point where today natural gas is in use in more than a quarter of a million transit buses with fourth generation engine technology that was the first to comply with 2010 emissions standards.
As a gaseous fuel, natural gas is a flexible partner for other fuels. It can be enriched with hydrogen to reduce air pollutant emissions, build experience with handling lighter-than-air fuels, and accelerate the use of hydrogen in transportation. Building new transit bus garages to be fuel flexible involves a small incremental capital cost and it supports the long term transition to zero and near zero emission transit buses. A fuel flexible bus garage is designed so that it is capable of handling heavier-than-air fuels such as diesel and biodiesel as well as lighter-than-air fuels such as natural gas, renewable natural gas, and hydrogen. Vancouver’s TransLink recently demonstrated the use of hydrogen-enriched natural gas in four of its transit buses as part of the Integrated Waste Hydrogen Utilization Project.
- Natural gas engines for transit buses are fourth generation technology. There are no fourth generation engines in use in transit in Canada.
- As of 2010, natural gas and diesel transit buses have comparable tailpipe emissions.
- According to GHGenius, natural gas transit buses offer an 18% reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions compared with 2010-compliant diesel buses.
- The 18% carbon benefit equals a 19 tonne reduction for a transit bus that is driven72,000 kilometers per year.
- The use of renewable natural gas increases the carbon benefit from 19 tonnes to 91 tonnes. Renewable natural gas offers a commercially-available, near zero emission option for transit bus fleets.
- One in five buses sold in the United States are natural gas buses.
- The capital premium for a natural gas transit bus is approximately one-quarter of the capital premium for a diesel electric hybrid transit bus.
- Fuel costs can be reduced by 20-30% using natural gas.