Natural Gas: Truck Fuel of the Future? Part 1

Switching to Natural Gas

Cheaper and less polluting than diesel, natural gas is being called the truck fuel of the future, and for a small but growing number of trucking companies, the future is now. M&M Cartage of Louisville, KY is taking a leading role in the green trucking movement with the investment of $7.5 million in compressed natural gas (CNG) powered trucks and a new zero-waste, LEED-certified, green HQ with an onsite natural gas refueling facility. With full conversion of its 170-truck fleet scheduled for 2016, M&M is replacing 120 of its Class 8 tractor-trailers with CNG-powered models this year. (Read the profile in CCJ Innovators.)

Tighter carbon dioxide standards, which may get even tighter in 2019, are prompting truck manufacturers to invest more heavily in natural gas-fueled vehicles. As a fuel, natural gas can be used in either liquid or compressed form:

  • Compressed natural gas, or CNG, is better adapted to fleet trucks, like buses and garbage trucks, that return to the same location every day for refueling.
  • Liquid natural gas, or LNG, which has a higher energy density and, therefore, greater range, is a better option for long-haul trucking.

Fleet sales of CNG trucks are gaining momentum. Waste and recycling hauler Republic Services recently added 79 heavy-duty CNG trucks to its Indianapolis fleet, installing two natural gas refueling stations to serve the trucks. According to NGT News, Republic now operates a nationwide fleet of 1,400 CNG vehicles, about half its fleet, and 26 natural gas fueling stations.

LNG trucks are proving to be a tougher nut to crack, held back by lack of engine availability and refueling infrastructure. Major users of CNG-fueled trucks typically build and operate onsite fueling stations. This works for shorter-range fleet trucks that can return to the company's facility to refuel a home base, but isn't an option for LNG-fueled long-haulers.

Next time we'll talk about what's holding back the natural gas fuel movement and what has to happen for natural gas fuel to become a practical choice for truckers.

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