When John Shortino decided to switch his waste disposal company’s 60-vehicle northern New Jersey fleet to compressed natural gas-powered trucks, he wanted honest feedback from his drivers.
“When we did the demo, I gave it to drivers who I thought would be quick to tell me if the trucks didn’t perform well,” said Shortino, president of Mount Arlington-based Blue Diamond Disposal.
The trucks passed the test.
“The drivers love them,” Shortino said.
Today, New Jersey Natural Gas announced it will provide natural gas service to a compressed natural gas filling station for Blue Diamond. The station will be the first in Morris County, and will be built, operated and maintained by California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp.
Shortino said he believes compressed natural gas is the fuel of the future in his industry.
“We’ve been researching it for about three years, looking into compressed natural gas-powered solid waste trucks,” he said. “It’s been a rarity in this area, but there’s quite a bit of them out in California, on the West Coast and in the Southwest.”
Shortino said the change makes good economic sense. Natural gas prices are low, thanks in large part to drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Meanwhile, the costs of business as usual continue to get higher, he said.
“Emission requirements are getting more and more difficult with diesel engines, and it’s becoming tougher to comply with these regulations,” he said. “At the same time, diesel fuel is out of control.”
Renee Amellio, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said her company has seen significant interest in natural gas-powered vehicles from its customers.
In June, New Jersey Natural Gas filed paperwork with the Board of Public Utilities seeking permission to invest up to $15 million to build seven to 10 natural gas filling stations in its service area of Monmouth, Ocean and Morris counties.
If approved, Amellio said the company expects to begin construction on the refueling stations no later than the end of 2012.
Blue Diamond has operations in Mount Arlington and in Cape May County. Shortino said natural gas isn’t available at their Cape May site, so for now, he’s focused on converting his northern New Jersey fleet to CNG-powered trucks. In addition to fuel savings, he said, natural gas-fueled trucks are quieter and cleaner than their diesel counterparts, and they don’t emit black smoke.
So far, the company has four trucks on-site, with 13 more on order. The New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition awarded Blue Diamond a $500,000 Department of Energy-funded grant to help add 10 of the vehicles to the company’s fleet, though Blue Diamond is paying for the other seven out of pocket. Shortino said a CNG-powered solid waste vehicle costs about $300,000 — about $70,000 more than a diesel truck.
But Shortino believes the investment to replace its fleet and build the CNG filling station will be worth it long-term while helping the make the company more cost-competitive.
“We’re looking forward to getting the equipment on the road,” he said. “We’ve taken the first step, and I think you’ll see other companies mirror what we’ve done here.”