Ohio State takes another step toward CNG buses

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State is looking for someone to build a compressed natural gas fueling station on campus,  Rick Rouan, the Dispatch’s transportation reporter, wrote in today’s Transportation Insider.

According to Rick, the university has purchased four buses that run on compressed natural gas for its Campus Area Bus Service. CNG burns cleaner and is cheaper than diesel or gasoline. (TheCalifornia Energy Commission says natural-gas-burning vehicles show an average reduction in ozone-forming emissions of 80 percent compared with gasoline vehicles.)

Rick’s report says the university is starting a long-term plan to move its whole fleet of 37 buses to compressed natural gas.

Some things to know about CNG:

— The Central Ohio Transit Authority has already started transitioning its fleet to run on compressed natural gas. The first 30 buses rolled out in May 2013.

— CNG burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel fuel, which could reduce ozone woes for central Ohio, which perenially struggles with smog. Transportation is a major, major cause of air pollution in the U.S.

— But: Compressed natural gas is primarily methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas — the stuff that causes climate change.

— Methane leaks at natural gas wells, throughout pipelines and at CNG pumping stations are a significant environmental concern for anyone worried about global warming. A study published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found we need better and more emissions data to fully understand how methane will affect climate change. The study also argued that we need to find ways to cut or eliminate methane leakage in order to minimize the climate footprint of natural gas. Another study published in 2014 in Science found that switching buses and trucks from diesel to natural gas is actually worse for the planet.

— According to the New York Times story about that study: “Although burning natural gas as a transportation fuel produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” That study also concluded there’s about 50 percent more methane in the atmosphere than the U.S. EPA had estimated.


Bottom line: Compressed natural gas is cleaner than, say, coal. And there are definitely benefits, especially when you think about the toxins that go into the air from our cars and trucks and buses. But when it comes to the environment, there are some serious reasons to be concerned. If I were an environmentally minded Ohio State student, I’d just as soon ride my bike.