Curbing GHG emissions

LANGLEY, B.C. – The government of British Columbia announced its Climate Leadership Plan Aug. 19, and despite a desire for more to be done, the provincial trucking association believes the two parties are quite sympatico in the effort to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“The industry’s goals, from a financial perspective, and the government’s goals, from an emissions perspective, are completely aligned,” said B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) president and CEO Louise Yako. “I think industry is going to do what it can and as quickly as it can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because reducing greenhouse gas emissions also means reducing fuel usage, and since fuel usage is typically the second largest operating cost for trucking companies, they have an incentive to do that in any case, regardless of the climate plan.”

The BCTA, however, does have its grievances with how some of the government’s initiatives have been rolled out.

The percentage of biodiesel the government currently requires a company to sell is 4%, but as Yako pointed out, that number is based on a yearly average, meaning a company could at one point sell 100% diesel, then turn around and sell a blend with up to 20% biodiesel, as long as it comes out to 4% at the end of the year.

But with higher percentages of biodiesel come issues for today’s truck engines with warranties, performance and maintenance.

“For us, the concern is that if it goes above 5%, there are some engines that don’t have a warranty above 5%,” Yako said. “We think over time those engine standards will change, and as biodiesel becomes more available and as engine standards change, then the industry will be able to use biodiesel with complete confidence, and today that is not necessarily the case.”

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment said the province’s fuel requirement for diesel has not changed from the current 4% in its new plan, and that in 2015, fuel suppliers incorporated an average 6.2% renewable content in diesel-finished fuel blends, including what it called a “3.4% drop-in renewable diesel (HDRD) and 2.8% biodiesel (FAME) with no reported operational issues.”

Yako said at present, it is difficult for today’s engines to go back and forth from using full diesel to a biodiesel blend, and that in cold weather, the higher concentration of biodiesel results in thicker fuel, making passage through the engine less efficient. Relying on findings from various research companies on the effects of biodiesel to arrive at their conclusions, Yako said the mandated use of biodiesel becomes a problem when the industry is asked to adhere to certain rules in advance of the proper technology and availability of the fuel.

Biodiesel concerns

“Once the engine manufacturers say they are able to warranty and guarantee to 10% or 20%, and the fuel is readily available, then that’s fine with the industry,” Yako said.

B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines said it understands that diesel truck engine warranties do not identify limits for the use of “drop-in” renewable diesel (HDRD), but that many identify limits for the use of biodiesel (FAME), and that many of these warranties identify 20% biodiesel as the acceptable content limit.

The ministry also said it was aware that the trucking industry in B.C. would like to see progress in the testing and demonstration of biodiesel under various road conditions, which is why the Low Carbon Fuels Branch’s Part 3 Agreement Program for 2016 provides specific incentives to fuel suppliers for things like testing bio-diesel in cold weather and supplying bio-diesel with higher than 5% blends in any conditions.

Looking for incentives

The Ministry of Environment added the government would be amending its greenhouse gas reduction regulation to allow utilities to double the total pool of incentives available to convert commercial fleets to natural gas, when the new incentives go towards vehicles using 100% renewable natural gas.

“Vehicle incentives and investments to support natural gas fueling stations are allowed under the greenhouse gas reduction regulation, which enables utilities to make time-limited investments to encourage conversion to natural gas for emission reductions,” the ministry told Truck West. “The policy removes a significant barrier for adopting renewable natural gas in medium and heavy duty vehicles, by supporting incentives specific to renewable natural gas. The diversification of fuels to more renewables is expected to result in emission reductions of about 40,000 tones per year by 2050.”

The BCTA has iterated to the government that it should offer an array of options for the reduction of GHG emissions because not every opportunity would be available to every company.

“We offered a whole series of things in our recommendations that would require regulatory changes and policy changes,” said Yako, “and in some cases, possible legislative changes in order for the whole suite of options to be available.”

Yako said the government has made some efforts to allow the industry to lessen its GHG emissions, such as weight allowances for auxiliary power units (APUs), changing regulations to allow for full-sized boat tails and increasing the long combination vehicle (LCV) network in B.C.

Smart liftable axles and wide-based single tires, on the other hand, are two things the government has not permitted the trucking industry to use, which the BCTA said would also help reduce GHG emissions.

“Those two items will require regulatory changes,” Yako said. “They would also benefit from having other provinces agree to those same changes.”

The province of Alberta is currently in the process of conducting a wide-base tire pilot project, and Yako said they have been keeping an eye on how the effort has been going.

“We’re very hopeful if the results in Alberta are positive, and we absolutely expect them to be, then B.C. will take notice and make modifications and recognition that if Alberta goes, it makes sense for all of the western provinces to go.”

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has indicated that smart lift axles are a relatively new technology, and that there are potential improvements the government could make with regards to their permitted use, which is currently under review, but their use remains restricted in the province.

The ministry also said it was trying to determine whether the use of wide-based single tires would result in reduced fuel consumption for trucks.

“Our current axle load limits on these tires are in accordance with a national memorandum of understanding on vehicle weights and dimensions,” the ministry said. “We understand these tires have a greater impact on pavement when compared to dual tires, possibly resulting in more frequent highway repaving depending on industry uptake and tire loading.”

The BCTA also supports mobility pricing in urban settings, which is a means to directly charge levies for the use of roads and other transportation infrastructure. It can include tolls, distance or time-based fees and congestion charges.

This past June, B.C.’s Chambers of Commerce passed a policy calling for the provincial government to employ an urban mobility-pricing model.

“B.C.’s transportation infrastructure is a cornerstone of our economy,” said Maureen Kirkbride, B.C. chamber interim CEO, in a release. “As regions such as the Lower Mainland prepare for significant population growth, we need a reliable source of transportation funding that also fights congestion. Mobility pricing is a complex issue. But with B.C.’s rising transportation infrastructure needs, it’s clear there’s no time to lose. We need to identify the best way to implement this in urban centers across the province – and then we need to get it done.”

But Yako said the kinds of changes needed help reduce traffic congestion in urban areas are not easy to make, and require the cooperation of municipalities.

“It’s one thing to say you can now use this magic technology that will help reduce fuel usage and GHG emissions,” Yako said, “it’s another thing entirely to try to change people’s behavior, and that’s what reducing traffic congestion in urban settings means.”

Yako said one of the most significant changes the B.C. government could make, but has not, that would have the largest benefit would be a tax change to invent faster turnover of truck equipment by allowing for input tax credits for tractors and trucks, which enables companies to deduct the provincial sales tax from the purchase of a tractor or truck.

“It’s been proven that those kinds of tax changes encourages faster turnover,” she said, “and faster turnover is important because newer equipment is more fuel efficient.”

The B.C. government claims its Climate Leadership Plan will lead to the creation of 66,000 jobs over the next decade, while reducing net annual GHG emissions by up to 25 million tones below current forecasts by 2050, or an 80% reduction from 2007 levels. The government will also hold its $30/ton carbon tax rate until it says ‘others catch up.’

Derek Clouthier

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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