Keeping up a happy face amid the oil price crash isn't all that difficult for the natural gas vehicle (NGV) sector, according to a couple of major suppliers of natural gas used in transportation and its fueling network. Large fleet owners are used to volatility in the fuels markets, they contend.
Both California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and Chicago-based ampCNG have a lot riding on the competitiveness of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), in the heavy-duty fleet vehicle space particularly. The oil price crash has cut into the cost advantages for NGV fuels relative to gasoline and diesel fuel.
"As gasoline and diesel prices continue their volatile pattern dictated by the global energy market, natural gas remains an inexpensive and cleaner fuel alternative for America's fleets," said a spokesperson for Clean Energy Fuels. "The more stable and economic trajectory of natural gas is the main reason why approximately 60% of new refuse trucks and 35% of new transit buses will be fueled by natural gas this year."
Large fleets with many CNG trucks are not slowing down in conversions, even in the midst of the oil price collapse, said Steve Josephs, a founder and the engineering director at ampCNG. "Where I do see a little difference is in the cycle for getting new fleets onboard. It is getting to be pretty lengthy -- probably more like 24 months rather than 12."
Josephs acknowledged that switching to natural gas can be a big change for large fleet operators, and there is always an "amount of risk," both financial and operational, surrounding the move. "Frankly, diesel fuel in trucking has worked really well for decades, so we're finding that some of the people we've been talking to for a year at this point, and we had thought were close to making a deal this month or quarter, are now being a little more cautious."
Most fleet operators already converting to natural gas are in for the long haul, the Clean Energy spokesperson told NGI.
Station expansion and refinement of NGV fueling equipment continue to emerge, with a major national fueling/truck stop operator, Love's, offering 99-cent/gallon CNG after opening a fast-fill station in San Antonio, making natural gas fueling available in all parts of the Texas triangle, which also includes Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin.
The San Antonio Love's CNG station began offering the cut-rate celebratory prices on Valentine's Day, and plans to keep them in effect through March 1. Love's fast-fill CNG stations have increased from one in 2012 to 11 today. Love's said the 99-cent fuel is also going to be available along Interstate 40 in Amarillo and in Choctaw, OK, east of Oklahoma City.
In Pennsylvania, as an outgrowth of a state-supported incentive program to encourage public transit systems to switch to natural gas, the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority, south of Pittsburgh, has ordered eight CNG buses from California-based Gillig. The transit authority will also convert its Donora, PA, maintenance facility and yard to provide, storage, maintenance and fueling of NGVs.
One of the latest advances in CNG fueling came last Tuesday for Agility Fuel Systems in North Carolina. It said its joint venture with Hexagon Lincoln will provide both a new breed of lightweight (Type IV) CNG fuel cylinders and the assemblies needed to mount them on heavy-duty vehicles.
To make these advancements, Agility is planning to open a regional headquarters and production facility in Rowan County, NC, according to the state Commerce Department. It will be about 14 miles from Freightliner's Cleveland, NC, factory.
In the conversion space, dual-fuel technology specialist American Power Group (APG) was selected by a major heavy-duty truck retailer, Harrison Truck Centers, to provide its turbocharged dual-fuel conversion technology for a new product Harrison is proposing to launch: an NGV engine to fill the gap in 400- to 600-hp Class 8 truck space.
Harrison plans to install the APG conversion kits in its Elk Run Heights, IA, facilities in collaboration with WheelTime Network's Interstate Power Systems, an established outlet for APG.
"Target markets will include heavy-haul, on-highway glider kits [emissions modifications] and Harrison's first severe-duty dual fuel glider kits for oil and gas, logging and mining industry [fleets]," APG told Fleets & Fuels newsletter.