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Natural Gas Sings a New Tune: 'Hit the Road, Jack'

Another energy road trip was started Thursday in Long Beach, CA, at the end of the three-day Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo 2012 conference, which included dozens of new natural gas vehicles (NGV), many of which are heavy duty trucks and tractors that can be designed for compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Daimler Trucks North America's Freightliner unit and a number of industry partners began a cross-country trek in a new Cascadia 113 NGV tractor trailer powered by a Cummins Westport ISX 12-liter G engine, hauling 30,000 pounds of recycled paper in a 53-foot-long trailer and schedule to be in Washington, DC, by Thursday (May 24). To date, Daimler Trucks has produced more than 1,500 CNG and LNG-powered vehicles.

The truck, which is making what Daimler officials said would be the first nationwide ride by a heavy-duty natural gas-fueled vehicle has already been used in commercial operations for several freight-hauling customers who leased its services as part of earlier demonstrations, according to David Hames, Daimler Trucks general manager for marketing and strategy.

Hames said the main purpose of the trip is to demonstrate the viability of CNG fueling infrastructure in the United States, which he described as more complete than LNG fueling stops, which are the focus of a nationwide Natural Gas Highway building effort. "We'll depend partly on publicly available CNG fueling facilities," Hames said. "There is a lot of talk about an 'LNG pipeline', but I don't think people realize that a CNG fueling infrastructure is already developing."

The route is along Interstate Highway 10 (I-10) from Southern California to Phoenix, AZ, then up to I-40 with stops in Oklahoma City on Monday; Little Rock, AR, on Tuesday; Nashville, TN, on Wednesday, and then on I-85 and I-95 en route to Washington, DC.

The road trip follows another completed last month by shale producer Southwestern Energy that involved separate CNG-powered vehicles traveling from Conway, AR, and Houston to Long Beach, CA. That trip covered a total of 2,782 miles and ran up a fuel bill of less than $300, with a cost savings over gasoline of more than $300, a spokesperson for the road trip told NGI. Southwestern said it paid an average price of $1.65/gas gallon equivalent for CNG during the trip.

"Based on the company's calculations, traveling entirely on CNG would have resulted in avoiding 28% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions normally released through the use of traditional gasoline vehicles," the spokesperson said. "However, because we were actually able to travel 94% of our trip on CNG, our true CO2 emissions reduction was 26%."

"Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate CO2 as an air emission, studies show it is the transportation sector's primary contribution to climate change," said Donny McCallum, Southwestern's supervisor, midstream planning.

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