Cheap Natural Gas Bringing Major Changes to Trucking
Cheap and abundant natural gas will be a real game changer for the trucking industry. More natural gas equipment is starting to become available, and many fleet managers are currently crunching the numbers trying to figure out if converting to natural gas works for them.
Most natural gas vehicles on the road today are powered by a Cummins 8.9 liter engine which is suitable for vocational trucks, buses, and other trucks up to the "baby 8" range. Starting in 2013, Cummins will have available a 12 liter natural gas engine which will be offered by most class 8 truck manufacturers, including Paccar. Cummins is scheduling a 15 liter NG engine for producion in 2015. A major consideration is that NG engines must use a spark ignition system as opposed to compressed fuel ignition in diesel engines. Also, the selective catalytic reduction systems and diesel particulate filters are eliminated with NG engines.
It has been estimated the extra cost for a NG truck could be as high as $70,000. Most of this (70%) is due to the fuel tanks. There are two types of natural gas: compressed natural gas (CNG), and liquid natural gas (LNG). A CNG tank has to handle pressure up to 3600 pounds per square inch. An LNG tank must be able to handle extremely cold liquids down to -260 degrees Fahrenheit. Savings in fuel costs are estimated at 20-30%, and estimated payback is estimated to be 12-18 monthes. Of course, there are other issues such as refueling stations and shops for maintaining NG vhicles.
This is just a short ( and crude) summary of what I have been able to find out about the future of NG in the trucking industry. All the main players are scrambling for leading roles in developing NG technology, and I think we are on the right track developing this abundant resourse.
If it was going to catch on, it would already of gained traction by now. Tanks are too big and not enough range for heavy duty trucks. Too heavy and not enough frame space for vocational truck. Will never be a huge game changer in heavy trucks, but will be used in automotive and power generation. Spread between NG and deisel will shrink over time. We will look back and compare this to hybrid technology.
The reason NG is only recently getting a lot of attention is it has never been this cheap before. On an equivalent basis, NG is about $2.00/gallon versus $4.00 for diesel. No, there will not be an overnight conversion, but the economics involved will bring major changes in the next decade. Also, recent discoveries of NG in our massive shale fields will keep NG prices low for years to come. Finally, as more equipment is produced, economies of scale will cause equipment costs to come down.