The Switch-New Natural Gas Truck Stops

The recent low prices and abundance of natural gas have the trucking industry making steps toward implementation of natural gas trucks and fueling stations.  Heavy trucks account for more than one-tenth of the oil consumption in the United States and natural gas provides an opportunity for reducing fuel costs and emissions in the industry.  [1]

“The route is known, the mileage is high and economics is the primary decision factor [for liquefied natural gas in heavy trucking],” said Tiffany Groode, director of the HIS Automotive Long-Term Planning and Scenarios Service. [2]  The long distances, regular routes, and high volume capacity of trucks makes supplying for liquid natural gas trucking economical.  Liquefied natural gas is about 30% more cost efficient than diesel with current U.S. prices.

While the opportunity seems promising, it proposes a chicken or the egg problem.  What will come first: natural gas trucks or natural gas filling stations?  The infrastructure does not currently exist for natural gas trucking to be feasible.  In order for filling stations to have a purpose, there must be a market for them to serve (i.e. Natural gas trucks need to be somewhat common on the road).  For natural gas trucks to be a practical substitute for diesel trucks, they need to be able to travel the same distances and refuel regularly.

So what comes first?  In November 2012, T. Boone Pickens, a major oil and gas investor, invested in a network of 70 natural gas fueling stations. [3]  The natural-gas filling stations would be implemented at existing truck stops on major highways spaced about 250 miles apart with a goal of increasing to 150 stations in 2013.  There are currently 70 natural gas fueling stations in 33 states.  However, most are dormant and awaiting the introduction of the first generation of natural gas trucks.

The complete first phase of Liquid Natural Gas Trucking Corridor. [4]

The complete first phase of Liquid Natural Gas Trucking Corridor. [4]

LNG trucks are about an $80,000 premium compared to traditional diesel trucks but would make up for the cost within 3 years without government incentives.[1] Cummins Westport will begin production this month on an 11.9-liter natural gas engine.  Other truck manufacturers such as Freightliner, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Volvo, and Navistar are planning to use new LNG rigs on the road by August.

The low prices of natural gas are alluring however; the switch to LNG rigs would also decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases.  Natural gas has decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent but, there is a significant increase in the leakage of methane.  Despite this leakage, a switch from diesel to natural gas would decrease total greenhouse gas emissions from 6 to 11 percent.

There are also added benefits to the truck drivers such as a lack of smell and quieter ride.  They are required to wear insulated gloves and face shields as they refuel due to the extremely chilled fuel.  However, these have not been seen as drawbacks.

Despite the growth of infrastructure, the worry still is that there will not be enough fueling stations in to get from point to point.

[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/03/130318-natural-gas-truck-stops/

[2] http://press.ihs.com/press-release/energy-power/natural-gas-vehicles-poised-penetrate-us-long-haul-trucking-fleet-ihs-cer

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/13/us-ge-cleanenergy-naturalgas-idUSBRE8AC0HQ20121113

[4] http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/12/07/first-phase-of-lng-trucking-corridor-complete/?graph=full&id=1

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Switch-New Natural Gas Truck Stops

  1. Oklahoma is a forerunner to a distributed natural gas transportation system. They have aggressively pursued creating both the infrastructure and vehicle demand to kickstart the CNG market. They have created four incentives (two tax credits and two loan programs), oriented at vehicles and infrastructure.[1] They have also partnered with natural gas companies such as CenterPoint and Clean Energy Fuels to bring expertise to and services.

    Oklahoma also kickstarted CNG by ordering over 250 CNG trucks for their fleet and installing enough distribution throughout the state that the state fleet can get to anywhere in the state and refuel. [2]

    That being said, I recognize CNG and LNG are very different. CNG has support from a 22-state coalition. Could this become a beta-vhs, hd-blu ray battle? If so, it would be a terribly expensive one.

    [1] http://www.afdc.energy.gov/laws/laws/OK/tech/3253
    [2] http://www.examiner.com/article/oklahoma-state-fleet-gets-242-cng-trucks?cid=rss

  2. brianvogel2013

    I agree that competition between CNG and LNG for vehicle applications would be unwise. The emerging system being put in place by Pickens and others is CNG based, and it appears that CNG will ultimately dominate the market, due to several practical factors:

    The key benefit of CNG over LNG is in the complication and expense of the equipment. CNG storage does not require cryogenic temperatures, requiring substantially less complicated tank systems. Additionally, due to the lack of cryogenic temperatures, the fuel can be kept in tanks indefinitely, as opposed to LNG systems that are “use it or lose it”. Finally, the pressure and temperature management system to get the fuel in LNG applications to the engine are much more complex, requiring more expensive engine designs. [1]

    The key advantage of LNG is in its superior energy density. Far smaller/fewer tanks are needed for the same amount of fuel, as compared to CNG applications. It appears, however, that despite this advantage, LNG will not compete on a large scale in the vehicle space.

    [1] http://www.agilityfuelsystems.com/why-natural-gas/lng-vs-cng.html

  3. Another advantage of CNG over LNG is that CNG is delivered through the pipeline system while LNG is normally delivered by truck to the fueling station [1], providing an even greater potential when looking at the greater picture and also considering light-duty vehicles (LDV). Additionally, the infrastructure of CNG fueling stations is considerably greater due to cryogenic tank and pump specifications. By June 2010, there were 836 public and private CNG stations and 38 LNG stations through out the US, providing a greater incentive to expand CNG fueling infrastructure due to the existing one. [2]

    However, another point to consider is the emissions reduction impact. A switch from diesel to CNG by United Parcel Services delivery trucks produced a 95%, 49%, 4% and 75% reduction in PM, NOx, NMHC, and CO, respectively, while a switch from diesel to LNG by Raley’s semi trucks produced a 96%, 80%, 59% and 75% reduction in PM, NOx, and NMHC, respectively and a 263% increase in CO. [2]

    Investing in CNG fueling stations for the trucking industry could speed up the processes of market penetration of CNG LDVs. But which is more desirable: increasing the market percentage of natural gas vehicles or the overall emissions reduced? It is necessary to compare the same units and this question can only be answered by projecting the emission reductions due to a CNG dominated fleet vs. an LNG dominated fleet. Looking at the CNG and LNG dilemma in isolation will lead to sub-optimum policy solutions.

    [1] http://www.afdc.energy.gov/pdfs/anl_esd_10-4.pdf

    [2] http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/AF/645.PDF

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