Does Natural Gas Make Sense for Freight? Environmental and Resource Implications of the “Pickens Plan”

The “Pickens Plan” is a highly promoted U.S. energy strategy, proposing to use natural gas as a transportation fuel to displace imported oil and, simultaneously, to increase renewable contributions to national electricity production. While the principal goal of the Pickens Plan is to improve domestic energy security and its associated foreign trade imbalance, the authors investigated the proposed strategies for their environmental benefits. They simulated a variation of the Pickens Plan across a seven-state Midwestern U.S. region to evaluate the greenhouse gas (GHG) and air quality implications of the plan. In this scenario, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is used to replace 100 percent of long-haul, diesel-powered freight, while wind-power is roughly doubled over the anticipated 2020 levels under existing renewable portfolio standards. Relative to a business-as-usual (BAU) reference case, the Pickens scenario reduces NOx, SO2, and GHG emissions. Most reductions occur within the electricity sector versus the freight sector: 73 percent of NOx reductions, 99 percent of SO2 reductions, and 94 percent of GHG reductions occurred within the power sector. While the LNG truck is estimated to have 21 percent lower GHG emissions than its diesel counterpart, methane leakage from the natural gas fuel cycle significantly reduces the GHG benefit from LNG trucking. Thus, LNG-powered freight only slightly reduces greenhouse gas emissions relative to the diesel-powered freight. To assess the benefits of natural gas in the transportation sector (Pickens Plan) versus the electricity sector, the authors considered a scenario where natural gas is increased in the electricity sector instead of the freight sector. This scenario yielded greater emissions reductions than the Pickens plan for all species, suggesting that natural gas fuel switching has more impact as an emissions mitigating measure within the electricity sector, rather than within the freight sector. To assess how emissions reductions would affect ambient pollutant concentrations, and the formation of secondary air pollutants, the authors employed a regional air quality model. Under the Pickens scenario, ambient concentrations of SO2, NO2, O3 and PM2.5 were all reduced relative to BAU. In general, the largest reductions were simulated near metro areas, along major highways, and in the Ohio River Valley.

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  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation, University Transportation Centers Program.
  • Corporate Authors:

    National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE)

    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    1415 Engineering Drive, 2205 Engineering Hall
    Madison, WI  United States  53706

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Authors:
    • Meier, Paul J
    • Holloway, Tracey
    • Luedke, Matt
    • Frost, Ethan A
    • Scotty, Erica
    • Williams, Scott P
    • Bickford, Erica
  • Publication Date: 2013-4


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Appendices; Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 40p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01489425
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: CFIRE 04-22
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT06-G-0020
  • Created Date: Jul 29 2013 3:42PM