3 Challenges to Natural Gas

Friday, Jul 12 2013 admin

Alternative fuel options

Three roadblocks will impede the trucking industry’s conversion to natural gas, says Thomas O’Brien, president and CEO of TravelCenters of America. O’Brien was a speaker at the ACT Expo in Washington D.C. on June 25. He assured the audience that natural gas will likely be one of several fuel choices in the future but that the conversion from diesel to natural gas won’t be a snap. Here are the reasons why:

  1. Natural gas equipment costs more.
  2. As demand for natural gas increases, so will the price.
  3. There is little to no infrastructure for natural gas.

Instead, conversion to natural gas for trucking companies will be thought of not as a revolution, but rather, as representing flexibility, says O’Brien. The rigidity of a switch from diesel to only natural gas belies the belief that there will be several choices for fuel in the near future.

O'Brien points out that adaptation to natural gas will require visionaries who can find solutions to prevail over these current obstacles. As far as the cost of investment goes, doing the math isn’t the only way to find the answer for trucking companies wishing to convert. The value of operating flexibility for the future is also being factored into the equation.

Even though an increase in demand for natural gas will raise its price, the economic benefits of using natural gas over the road will still persist over time, believes O’Brien. The potential for savings over diesel will be even greater.

The demand for natural gas will also be a driving force for the development of an infrastructure over time. The number of natural gas trucks on the road will create an equal response and the pace of that number is accelerating. A recent survey cited 61 percent of fleet managers saying that they already have natural gas vehicles in their fleet. Eleven percent said that they have plans to add natural gas trucks while 19 percent said that they do not plan to add natural gas vehicles. O’Brien believes that there will be more than half a million natural gas powered trucks on the road within seven years.

O’Brien points to TravelCenters' current collaboration with Shell to establish 100 TA and Petro-branded fueling stations that include LNG lanes nationwide. The first stations will be in Nevada, California, and Texas by 2014. Traffic and demand will set the stage for more to follow.

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