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The Potential to Build Current Natural Gas Infrastructure to Accommodate the Future Conversion to Near-Zero Transportation Technology


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Suggested Citation:
Jaffe, Amy Myers, Rosa Dominguez-Faus, Joan M. Ogden, Nathan C. Parker, Daniel Scheitrum, Zane McDonald, Yueyue Fan, Tom Durbin, George Karavalakis, Justin Wilcock, Marshall Miller, Christopher Yang (2017) The Potential to Build Current Natural Gas Infrastructure to Accommodate the Future Conversion to Near-Zero Transportation Technology. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-17-04

The emergence of natural gas as an abundant, inexpensive fuel in the United States has highlighted the possibility that natural gas could play a significant role in the transition to low carbon fuels. Natural gas is often cited as a “bridge” to low carbon fuels in the transportation sector. Major corporations are already investing billions of dollars to build infrastructure to feed natural gas into the U.S. trucking industry and expand the use of natural gas in fleets. In the state of California, natural gas fueling infrastructure is expanding, especially in and around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The use of natural gas fueled medium and heavy-duty fleets is currently on an upswing.

The emergence of new interest in investment in natural gas fueling infrastructure in California raises the question regarding whether natural gas infrastructure could become stranded by the ultimate shift to lower carbon fuels or whether the natural gas infrastructure system offers synergies that could potentially facilitate speedier adoption of lower carbon fuels. Industry has advocated that overlap of key natural gas infrastructure will lower transition costs and provide consumers with an optimal mix of fuels as the state’s commercial vehicle stock is replaced with alternative vehicles over time.

Development of alternative fuels that have low greenhouse gas emissions and low criteria pollutant emissions, such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen, are considered a major avenue for the state of California to meet climate change and air quality goals.

We examine the precise natural gas infrastructure that is economically and technologically synergistic for both natural gas and renewable natural gas in the near term, and alternative fuels like renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen in the long term. In particular, we examine optimum paths for developing infrastructure in the near term that will accommodate alternative fuels once they become available at the commercial scale. The original design of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) provides time for the development of advanced, near-zero technologies. We consider the credits from the LCFS in our analysis.

We find that infrastructure requirements for natural gas and renewable natural gas (RNG) have many synergies. Emerging RNG supplies can utilize much of the same infrastructure as fossil natural gas networks, sharing the same vehicles, station equipment and midstream pipelines for transmission. The time frame for availability and opportunity are also contiguous, allowing for RNG and fossil natural gas networks to be developed simultaneously, each facilitating the other. Fossil natural gas network investors can benefit from receiving carbon credits by blending RNG into their fossil based natural gas fuel while RNG investors can save costs by piggy backing on existing fossil natural gas infrastructure.