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US utility SoCalGas has secured $7.1 million in funding from the Department of Energy to fund its zero and near-zero-emissions vehicle research programmes.

SoCalGas will implement three research projects with technology firm Cummins, GTI and the West Virginia University Research Corporation.

The utility will also leverage $730,000 in additional funding from its Research, Development and Demonstration department to research and develop zero- and near-zero-emissions technologies for heavy and medium-duty transportation.

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The aim is to address climate change and air pollution by advancing fuel cell technology for on-road trucking and transit, near-zero emissions natural gas technology for rail locomotives, and best practices to reduce maintenance costs for alternative fuel vehicles.

With Cummins, SoCalGas will develop a single prototype zero-emissions fuel cell design that can power both heavy-duty class 8 trucks and transit buses.

This will help reduce maintenance costs for trucks and buses at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California’s cities and corridors.

The project in cooperation with GTI aims to develop and demonstrate a natural gas hybrid line-haul rail locomotive that will minimise emissions below the current standards and operate on renewable natural gas.

With West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (WVU CAFEE), SoCalGas will study the difference in maintenance and labor costs for new, alternative fuel trucks powered by natural gas, propane and electric compared to standard diesel trucks.

Yuri Freedman, senior director of business development at SoCalGas, said: “SoCalGas is committed to being an integral part of California’s energy future, and as we work on achieving our goal to be the cleanest gas utility in North America, supporting the research and development of clean transportation technologies is key.

Dr. Arvind Thiruvengadam (Principal Investigator) and Assistant Professor at West Virginia University, adds: “The transportation sector accounts for around 40% of California’s GHG emissions, and developing zero- and near-zero emissions vehicle technology is critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change.”

“Lack of technical quality in comparison of maintenance cost between alternative fuel vehicles and conventional diesel has acted as a barrier for increased adoption of AFV by heavy- and medium-duty fleets.”