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Report Finds Heavy-Duty Natural Gas Vehicles More Economical Than Diesel

A new study has found that when the price of crude oil is more than $31/bbl, heavy-duty natural gas powered vehicles (NGV) that meet strict emissions standards are more cost-effective to own, operate and maintain over their lifetime than comparable diesel-powered vehicles. Oil prices have been well above $31/bbl for some time...and September crude futures closed at $60.57/bbl on Friday.

The national report prepared by TIAX LLC, a product and technology development firm, was commissioned by the California Natural Gas Vehicle Partnership (CNGVP). The report also found that projections of diesel vehicle costs have "a higher range of variation" than natural gas vehicle costs due to "uncertainty in the diesel engine technology and emission control equipment needed" to meet the performance demands of 2010 heavy-duty applications.

"The findings of our report are significant," said Mike Jackson, senior director at TIAX LLC. "Transit, refuse and short-haul fleet managers should carefully evaluate natural gas and diesel vehicle technologies that meet 2010 emissions standards. For these applications, our study indicates vehicles equipped with stoichiometric natural gas engines and three-way catalysts will have similar owning and operating costs compared to diesel engines equipped with advanced aftertreatment technologies, which enable both sets of vehicles, respectively, to meet new emissions standards.

"That said," Jackson added, "at oil prices above $31 per barrel, natural gas technologies are cheaper than the diesel alternatives and may well be the best overall option for fleet managers."

Refuting CNGVP's claims, the Diesel Technology Forum sharply criticized the report, saying that it attempts to suggest compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles may cost less to operate in the future, but takes absolutely no account of how the CNG fuel actually gets into the tank.

"It's impossible to develop a valid cost comparison between diesel and natural gas vehicles without considering the infrastructure costs necessary to support natural gas fleets," says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. "That means you have to add in the cost for building the shipping and receiving facilities, pipelines, fueling stations and maintenance facilities that currently do not exist."

The CNGVP -- a coalition of public- and private-sector interests -- welcomed the study's findings. "Diesel engines have had a significant cost advantage over natural gas up to now, but the costs of owning and operating comparable vehicles that meet 2010 emission standards, coupled with the price of petroleum, shifts the advantage to natural gas," said Gunnar Lindstrom, chairman of the partnership. "What's more, natural gas vehicle manufacturers are now taking orders for vehicles that meet 2010 emission requirements, while uncertainties remain about diesel vehicle costs and technologies. This is solid justification to increase deployment of natural gas vehicles in California and across the country."

The TIAX report, "Comparative Costs of 2010 Heavy-Duty Diesel and Natural Gas Technologies," estimated the life-cycle costs for heavy-duty diesel and natural gas vehicles that meet the stringent 2010 EPA and California Air Resources Board emission requirements. Refuse haulers, transit buses and short-haul trucks were analyzed.

More natural gas-powered vehicles are on the road around the world today than ever before, with their engines factory-built by the likes of American Honda Motor Company, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, John Deere and Cummins Westport, the CNGVP said. More than 1,500 "filling" stations serve current demands for fuel in North America, with more being designed and constructed to meet future demand.

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