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Trucking Group: NatGas a No Go for Long Hauls

Natural gas is not currently a viable solution for most long-haul trucking operations, though it is an acceptable fuel alternative for some short-haul applications, according to trade group American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is not practical for long-distance, heavy-duty truck applications because of its low energy density, ATA said in a statement submitted to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. CNG is already being used in shorter-range applications, ATA said.

With its higher energy density, liquefied natural gas (LNG) could be a viable alternative for longer routes, but "the lack of a competitive refueling infrastructure suggests that this alternative is not currently viable for long-haul applications," according to ATA.

Despite the availability of federal and state tax incentives, the cost of natural gas trucks -- which sell for $40,000-70,000 more than traditional diesel trucks -- is one of the biggest obstacles to using natural gas in the long-haul industry, ATA said.

"In an industry with operating expenses that often exceed 98% of collected revenue, trucking companies cannot afford to increase their capital expenses by purchasing natural gas trucks that cost significantly more than the trucks that their competitors are operating," ATA said.

The trucking industry will be reluctant to set aside diesel trucks and adopt natural gas vehicles (NGV) until competitive LNG refueling infrastructure is available and operational challenges, including the significantly reduced range of LNG trucks, are addressed, according to ATA.

In the past ATA has made similar remarks in response to oil and gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens' call to for increased use of natural gas as a transportation fuel (see NGI, Feb. 23).

Industry is poised for a period of growth that could put 7.3 million new NGVs on the road worldwide by 2015, a 75% increase from the current 9.7 million NGVs in operation, according to a recent report from Boulder, CO-based Pike Research (see NGI, Oct. 26). The report concluded that more than three million NGVs will be sold worldwide in 2015, but only 31,347 of them will be sold in the United States.

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