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Which Alternative Fuel Are You?

Author: Jennifer Taylor
Published: June 3rd, 2013

Meeting Federal, State and Municipal air quality requirements have helped bring alternative fuel sweepers to the forefront. The question is which alternative fuel is best? Which one should you get?

If you are sweeping for a municipal, then some cities want alternative fuel sweepers in an effort to reduce their city’s carbon footprint. “With the ever growing need to address environmental concerns and to meet Federal, State and Municipal air quality requirements, there has been an increasing demand for fleets to add more low emission alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs),” says Tom Rokas at Tymco.

The case for CNG

“Elgin Sweeper currently provides products that are powered by CNG and LNG. Of the two natural gas variants, CNG is the more common among municipal users and contractors,” says Brian Giles, sweeper products manager at Elgin Sweeper. “While it is anticipated that LNG will always be around in small numbers, increased demand will likely be in CNG. Although LNG may be the more ‘portable’ fuel to locations that lack a natural gas infrastructure, its inability to be stored for any length of time on a vehicle make it less desirable for vehicles like sweepers.”

Schwarze and Tymco mirrors Elgin’s commitment to CNG.

“These California Air Resources Board (CARB) verified Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV), when combined with our proven Regenerative Air System, offer the highest degree of cleaning power available on the market today, while at the same time maintaining and improving the environment,” says Rokas. “TYMCO has accomplished this by designing a modular CNG fuel storage rack system and LPG tank that require minimal additional wheelbase, resulting in the tightest turning radius possible, all while providing maximum rear view visibility.”

“Following the lead of the transit departments around the country, Compressed Natural Gas has become the main choice for alternative fuel sweepers at Schwarze Industries,” says Jim Adair, director of product management at Schwarze.

“The cost of CNG is around 20 percent less than Diesel and various funding is available through both state, federal agencies and private grants. For instance, owners of alternative fuel sweepers can get a sizeable tax rebate from the federal government for properly registered products. The IRS website ( can provide more information on the Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit.

“The use of CNG fuel by cities has now been around for more than a decade, especially in Southern California. An additional reason for this choice was the quick filling of the vehicle’s fuel tank by these high pressure pumping stations allow for the least amount of downtime between sweeping jobs. On top of that, stored CNG does not vent off or have to be stored at cryogenic temperatures, increasing value and operator safety.

“And when it comes to performance of alternative fuel sweepers, there is really no difference from diesel, gasoline or other alternative fuel sweepers. But CNG fuel however is known to create lower levels of particulates in the exhaust and is the cleanest burning of all motor vehicle fuels. CNG is a fossil fuel but it can also be produced as a by-product of decomposition of organic materials.”

Some of the challenges of using CNG fuel Schwarze Industries had to consider were:

  • The size of the fuel tanks required compared to regular diesel engines.
  • The initial cost of the pumping stations.
  • Training and certification of service personnel for CNG.

“So, specific technology and a certified training program had to be developed to meet expectations, and today many of these challenges have been overcome,” says Adair.

One of those challenges is infrastructure. Not including private stations, there are 11,663 alternative fuel stations in the United States according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center. Nationwide, there are 578 CNG stations compared to 32 LNG stations. So, you can see why CNG is more common.

Other Fuels

“Another alternative, LPG (Propane or Autogas), offers the attraction of inexpensive fueling systems. However, the current lack of street-side filling stations make this a poor choice for vehicles that are not domiciled and refueled in the same location each day,” says Brian Giles, sweeper products manager at Elgin Sweeper. “This situation may change if LPG drops significantly in cost.”

“Liquefied Natural gas (LNG) systems are not used due to the complexity of the storage tanks. Even though LNG takes up less than half the space of CNG, it must be cryogenically stored at around -260 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Adair. “And when temperatures are not maintained, fuel will vent off and be lost. This, in itself, could pose a rather large public safety concern. The cryogenic components also require more maintenance adding more cost of ownership to this configuration.”

What it Means

For those of you worried about buying one alternative fuel truck and then the industry going with a different one (Beta vs. VHS anyone?), Giles says that he anticipates “that products powered by all these fuel types will continue to be available from manufactures. One reason is that a customer’s fuel choice for the sweeper is often driven by their choice for other vehicles, which often involve a larger fleet size, such as refuse trucks or buses.”

“Schwarze Industries expects continued growth in the sales of its alternative fuel sweepers, both to public agencies and to contractors,” says Adair. “Requirements by cities or regions that alternative fuels be used will help grow the market further and programs assisting the end-user with funding to offset the cost can bring alternative fuel sweepers within reach of many more buyers.”

For those thinking about making a purchase soon, legislation has recently been introduced to Congress to allow tax credits for alternative fuel vehicles through 2018. The legislation covers CNG, LNG, and natural gas.