In 2015, UPS became the largest user of renewable energy in the shipping industry, when it began using a source of natural gas that is derived from methane captured in landfills. “When we at UPS look through the lens of circular economy, our view is based all around fuel,” said Rhonda Clark, chief sustainability officer at UPS, speaking at CES this year. “That’s the commodity that we consume the most of, so we’re always trying to figure out ways to buy less and burn less to make sure that we’re environmentally responsible.”
The renewable natural gas (RNG) is being supplied by T. Boone Pickens’ Clean Energy Fuels company, which is the first company to deliver RNG at commercial scale.“UPS is one of the largest consumers of fuel in the world,” Clark said. “We tested it, we know it works and we’re driving it in our fleet every day making deliveries.”
The RNG is a “drop-in” renewable fuel, meaning the alternative fuel can be used in any diesel truck without needing to modify the truck. “It burns better, it’s made from waste products, as opposed to being drilled from the ground,” Clark said. “For us, it really is a circular economy, I’m taking waste out of the waste stream, and creating a fuel that I can use and burn.”
Clark said the company began talking about UPS’s alternative fuel choices publicly over the last year, and found a lot of interest in the product in the shipping industry. “That really drove innovation in the marketplace,” Clark said. “We joke about it now, this year we’re having trouble getting the fuel, because so many people learned about it and saw the value of it. We helped drive the market to do the right thing.”
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the fuel for UPS — it is price competitive.
UPS has built up one of the largest private alternative fuel and advanced technology fleets in the States, comprised of 5,500 vehicles that are either all-electric, hybrid electric, biomethane RNG or run on compressed or liquid natural gas. It is also using route planning and other fuel efficiency measures, such as light weight composite bodies for their trucks, to reduce fuel consumption.
In the US, UPS offers RNG at three of its filling stations in California; it has deployed 18 electric “near zero emission” trucks in Texas; it has expanded availability of its RNG fuel vehicles in Mississippi and Tennessee; and UPS already operates tractors using RNG in the UK, through a partnership with Mercedes Benz. “The whole world is changing, we’re very global,” Clark said. “We have to have solutions that’ll work around the world.” The company aims to drive one billion miles using its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet by the end of 2017.
“The most important part to take away is that all of us have a responsibility to be involved in making it work,” Clark said. “We all have to get involved and innovate because we have the money. It’s not the government. Businesses have to lead the way. The better we get, we supply more value to our customers, and their supply chain becomes more sustainable because of the work we do.”
Trash to Gas infographic here.