Natural gas has recently received much attention as an alternative fuel for the trucking industry. Some questions have been answered, and some remain. Do lower natural gas costs offset better MPG with diesel fuel? Will the resources be available to build the infrastructure of fueling facilities required for over-the-road logistics? Are there enough trained natural gas engine mechanics? Is natural gas a viable fuel choice for the future?
I knew very little about natural gas. Sure, I’ve owned gas appliances and I knew natural gas was largely methane, but I wanted to know more; I wanted to know how it might affect the trucking industry. While researching, here’s what I found:
What is Natural Gas?
As stated by Wikipedia, “Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane… Natural gas is found in deep underground natural rock formations…”
Where Does Our Natural Gas Originate?
According to the American Gas Association (AGA), “Most (88 percent) of the natural gas consumed in the United States is produced in the U.S. Canada provides much of the rest (10.5 percent), with 1.5 percent imported as liquefied natural gas (LNG).”
When compared to the millions of barrels of fuel currently imported from overseas, the potential economic impact of converting fleets to natural gas is big.
How Does a Natural Gas Engine Compare In Emissions To Other Fuels?
The U.S Department of Energy believes natural gas vehicles could lower emissions, “Compared with vehicles fueled with conventional diesel and gasoline, natural gas vehicles can produce significantly lower amounts of harmful emissions such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and toxic and carcinogenic pollutants as well as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.” UPS, one of the largest fleets in the U.S.A., added 48 new LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) trucks to its Las Vegas Nevada fleet. They expect to reduce emissions as compared to diesel by as much as 25%.
Conclusion: Converting even a small percent of current trucking fleets to natural gas fueled could improve the North American environment.
How Does the Fuel Cost Compare To Gasoline?
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, “The gasoline gallon equivalent price at a Clean Energy fueling station is about $1.89 per gallon compared with gasoline prices now heading above the $4 per gallon mark.”
Natural gas is currently less than half the cost of gasoline. I’m not a math whiz, but even I understand how huge that could be. If I’m spending $40 dollars a week on fuel in my car, and I cut that to $20 a week, times 52 weeks, I save $1040 dollars a year. If the trucking industry uses 53.9 BILLION gallons of fuel a year, and they switched to natural gas, they’d save… a lot of fuel.
What About Fuel Availability?
I went to the US Department of Energy fuel locator and planned a trip from Indianapolis to Los Angeles using natural gas.
What I found was, at best, a patchy network of natural gas fueling stations. There were no fueling stations listed between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque (543 miles) or between Albuquerque and Los Angeles (787 miles). Regardless of the cost of fuel – the lack of availability may make long hauling, at this time, difficult if not impossible.
Are There Many Natural Gas Fueled Trucks On The Roads In America?
“As of 2009, the U.S. had … 114,270 compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, mostly buses; 147,030 vehicles running on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); and 3,176 vehicles liquefied natural gas (LNG)” — Wikipedia
Although many questions remain, and infrastructure initiatives will have to be undertaken before natural gas is a practical alternative to traditional fuels. The upside? Fuel savings, North American production and lowered emissions make natural gas an attractive trucking fuel alternative.