What Has to Happen for Truckers to Embrace Natural Gas Fuel?

February 4, 2014

From Oil to Natural Gas

Natural gas is being heralded as the truck fuel of the future (see our previous post). Cheaper and more eco-friendly than diesel, natural gas may prove to be the solution we need to meet the federal government's increasingly restrictive truck emissions standards. But while the average 40% cost difference between natural gas and diesel fuel is considerable and can shorten payback periods for heavy-duty trucks significantly, a few very important things have to happen before the majority of truckers will consider NG fuel a practical truck fuel alternative.

Three interesting developments could make 2014 a turning point in the commercial trucking industry's adoption of clean energy and open the long-haul truck market to natural gas fuel:

  1. In a joint venture, Cummins Westport is marketing a 12-liter natural gas engine (ISX12 G) with spark ignition for either CNG or LNG fuel for use on heavy-duty trucks. All four truck manufacturers are offering models with the new engine.
  2. Westport Innovations is pushing natural gas storage systems in commercial markets.
  3. Clean Energy Fuels, which builds and operates natural gas fueling facilities, plans to build a nationwide network of LNG filling stations along major truck routes. (Read more on Seeking Alpha.)

With 3.2 million trucks on the road and 200,000 new trucks purchased per year, conquering the heavy-duty Class 8 truck market is considered essential to engineering a wholesale switch to NG fuel. Truck manufacturers seem to be betting on natural gas but are only predicting a modest 4% to 5% increase in NG-fueled heavy-duty trucks this year which amounts to about 8,000 to 10,000 trucks, split almost evenly between LNG and CNG rigs.

However, within a decade, NG truck sales are expected to more than double. The greening of the U.S. trucking industry may be coming slowly, but it is coming.

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