How Big is UPS?

UPS is a familiar name. If you, say, live on a street or travel on roads in America, you already know that their big brown delivery trucks are as common as dandelions and as ubiquitous as cell phones. There’s a reason for that: UPS is huge. It’s a component of the Dow Jones Transportation index. UPS Airlines is the 3rd-largest freight airline in the world and flies 779 destinations, more than any other airline on the planet, passenger or freight. It employs more than 460,000 people worldwide and operates more than 119,000 vehicles, ranging from bicycles to Class 8 long-range diesel tractor-trailers.

Natural Gas vs. Diesel

It’s that last bit—diesel—that’s changing, and the pace of change just got faster. Diesel is the most powerful petroleum fuel—it contains more energy, drop for drop, than gasoline, propane or natural gas. Diesel is a proven technology, and diesel engines perform reliably even after racking up hundreds of thousands of miles. But that reliability comes at a cost. Diesel fuel sells at a premium of 20-40 cents per gallon compared to gasoline. What’s more, diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxide (NOx), the key building block of smog, and particulate matter small enough to pass through your lung tissue directly into the bloodstream with each breath of polluted air. By contrast, CNG cuts NOx output by better than 90%, and eliminates nearly all particulate output compared with diesel.

Transitioning to CNG and RNG

With these two problems in mind—enduring fuel costs and long-term health impacts—UPS began to shift its fleets away from diesel ten years ago, and to date has invested more than $1 billion in cleaner fuel vehicles and fueling systems. Last week, the company announced that it is committing to purchase another 6,000 compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks between 2020 and 2022. These CNG trucks will also be able to run on renewable natural gas (RNG)—that is, gas produced from waste sources rather than drilled or fracked. Using RNG from dairies, feedlots or wastewater treatment systems cuts total greenhouse gas emissions by 90% compared to diesel, and UPS has already agreed to purchase 230 million gallon-equivalents (GGE) in the next seven years, making it the largest user of RNG in the transportation sector.

Accessing Funding Assistance

We’re happy to say that MEC and Kansas City Regional Clean Cities have had a hand in making this transition possible regionally. Working through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we provided funding support to speed UPS replacement of eight heavy diesel trucks based in Lenexa back in 2016. Additional EPA assistance is continuing the process. Competitive grants from the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program mean that we’re on track to help UPS take an additional 49 diesel trucks off the road through 2021, replacing them with CNG units. The bulk of these replacements is in Lenexa, Kansas City and in metro St. Louis, with 10 long-haul CNG trucks heading for Columbia, MO.