A CONVERSATION WITH CLEAN ENERGY
The volatility of diesel prices has pushed many fleets to start looking at natural gas-powered trucks.Read More
The volatility of diesel prices has pushed many fleets to start looking at natural gas-powered trucks. To meet this growing need, Navistar will soon add Cummins-Westport CNG and LNG engines to its lineup. The OEM has also partnered with Clean Energy, which is building natural gas fueling stations from coast to coast. We spoke with the fuel provider about their aggressive infrastructure plans—and why this alternative fuel is gaining traction.
The following is an edited version of our conversation with Jim Harger, Clean Energy's chief marketing officer, and Don Horning, vice president of sales.
What's the one thing that truck owners should know about natural gas?
Harger: We've shown that natural gas can be a substitute for diesel based on the thousands of LNG tractors that we fuel daily at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Natural gas and diesel can do the same job, pull the same weight, and meet the same duty cycle. The technology works well. Now it's an issue of fueling [infrastructure]. And we're taking care of that by building America's Natural Gas Highway. Seventy stations will be in operation by the end of the year, which will allow trucks to run coast-to-coast and border-to-border. In 2013, we will complete another 80 stations. The combined investment is well over $200 million.
More than anything, truck owners should know that the economics of running natural gas are much more attractive than running a diesel truck. You'll spend about $1.50 less per gallon less than diesel and be within a few percent of the same fuel economy.
What makes natural gas the most viable alternative solution versus others that have been proposed, such as hybrid-electric vehicles?
Harger: For over-the-road and regional trucking, natural gas is more viable because our economics, resulting from fuel savings, are much stronger. The natural gas incremental cost is also less than other technologies [like hybrid-electric]—and natural gas doesn't impact the vehicle weight (gallon for gallon) as compared with the additional weight of batteries. When hybrids are running in a steady [diesel] state, the engine has to produce the same horsepower and torque as a traditional engine, so there is minimal fuel savings. But natural gas vehicles, whether operating in an urban environment or OTR, our engines burn a fuel that costs substantially less than diesel, resulting in attractive payback periods.
What's your response to those truck owners who might be jaded about all alternative fuel technology?
Harger: I would suggest that they keep their options open. Look at the capital investment being made by all the OEMs for natural gas. And look at the infrastructure we're building; our investment is more than $200M to build 150 fueling stations. A good comparison is to see how we changed the solid waste industry: We participated in the first deployment of natural gas trucks with Waste Management in 1997. Just recently, David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management, announced that 90% of all 2012 new purchases will be CNG. Republic Services, the nation's second largest solid waste company, are purchasing 65% CNG for 2012. That's a huge endorsement.
Horning: Natural gas is not a new technology. Clean Energy has sold billions of gallons of natural gas for transportation. It's relatively new for the Class 8 arena because not until 2007 did the OEMs begin offering a natural gas product direct from the factory.
How confident are you in achieving your goal of 150 fueling stations by next year?
Harger: We're very confident. Today, we have completed several stations and corridors so trucks can operate throughout the Texas Triangle, a good portion of the Southern Central Time Zone, Southwest and Southeastern U.S. By the end of the 3rd quarter you're going to be able to run [on natural gas] from Dallas to LA and from Dallas to Atlanta.
Horning: When you talk about infrastructure, fueling is the most important part; but the other part is the maintenance side. If you're a driver and you know you can get fuel everywhere, but you're not sure what happens if your truck breaks down, that's a concern. That's why Navistar is training their dealers as we speak, so they are ready to service natural gas vehicles.
Will these stations resemble what truck drivers know today?
Harger: The stations are cleaner because they're absent of diesel exhaust in the air. We dispense LNG at a similar rate to diesel—about 15 gallons per minute. The only real difference is you have to wear gloves and eye protection. Drivers will have many of the same amenities they have today because the majority of stations we are building are collocated at Pilot Flying J truck stops.
For more information on Clean Energy, visit: www.cleanenergyfuels.com.