June 29, 2012

The Hurdle of Natural Gas Fueling Infrastructure

The headlines have been buzzing with stories of natural gas fueling the future of transportation – from new fueling stations built to new legislature passed that makes it easier for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) to be the natural choice (pardon the pun). Truck fleet managers can see the benefit of switching to a CNG-powered fleet as the price of gasoline and diesel continues to climb and the differential between these and natural gas gets larger. Even with the higher cost of NGVs at the offset, some quick math shows that the fuel-cost savings over the lifetime of the fleet makes the investment more than worthwhile.(link to cost saving calculator)

So what’s the hold up? When fleet managers consider switching their trucks to natural gas, they face the same problem that has caused a bottleneck in adoption of passenger NGVs: lack of fueling infrastructure. The lack of fueling stations for CNG and LNG is the biggest obstacle that NGVs face, but it’s not one that’s insurmountable. America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) released a comprehensive analysis that defines the scope of the issue in the U.S. and Canada.

Taking a look at countries that have a strong backbone of fueling stations for their NGV’s, such as Pakistan, Iran, Argentina and Brazil, proves that this infrastructure is attainable. While Jim Grambihler – who coordinates three of the four committees within ANGA’s Drive Natural Gas Initiative – agrees that we are a long way from catching up to these countries, he commented in an interview with NGT News that even right now, with the relatively small number of NGVs on U.S. roads, there is already more demand for CNG for transportation use than existing stations can accommodate.

Currently, there are about 1,000 CNG refueling sites in the U.S. (many of which are private access) compared to approximately 119,000 retail gasoline stations. While this can be seen as a significant hurdle to the widespread use of NGVs, it’s also a huge opportunity for natural gas distribution companies to take advantage of the current upswing in natural gas fueled transportation.

Companies like Clean Energy Fuels (who announced its plan to build an American Natural Gas Highway) and Shell Oil Company (who announced a partnership with TravelCenters of America refueling stations) are poised to reap the first benefits of the switch.

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