Natural gas as a transportation fuel has zoomed around the map of North America in August, capitalizing on a continuing price advantage at the pump even with recent falling gasoline prices.

The first stop was Baytown, TX, near Houston where the first facility of what is billed as a 150-station natural gas highway was opened as part of a major partnership between Pilot Flying J Travel Centers and California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the builder, operator and fuel supplier for the new liquefied natural gas (LNG) dispensing station.

Holding a 15,000-gallon LNG tank storage capacity, the Baytown station opened with a single dispenser, but Clean Energy said the station has the capacity to expand with additional storage tanks and dispensers. For now, Trimac Transportation will be a major customer with its fleet of 14 Kenworth LNG trucks getting all of its fuel and service needs taken care of there. Trimac bought its LNG fleet with funding help from the Houston-Galveston Association of Governments.

Clean Energy called this station the "first operating node" of what eventually will be "America's natural gas highway," which will provide the backbone of what the Seal Beach, CA-based firm envisions as a critical national network with natural gas fueling stations located all along major interstate highway trucking corridors.

As was promoted in Idaho recently, natural gas -- either LNG or compressed natural gas (CNG) -- is a good deal at the pump, and that continues to contribute to the new found interest in the transportation value of natural gas. After being available for commercial fleets for several years in parts of Idaho, earlier this month the first public access for CNG vehicles was opened in the Treasure Valley area of the state. Local media touted the equivalent of $1.60/gal gasoline as the price for CNG (vs. $3.60/gal for actual gasoline).

A local solid waste hauling company, Allied Waste, told local news media that its 49 CNG-fueled garbage trucks spend about $90 daily on fuel, compared to more than $200 for diesel fuel in the past. Nevertheless, the fleet operator said upfront costs for the fueling infrastructure are considerably higher than for the gasoline fueling station equivalent. A CNG truck could cost up to $20,000 more than a gasoline or diesel fueling equipment.

Clean Energy, which also operates the Idaho station, targets large fleets with big gasoline bills because they have the best chance to more quickly recoup the higher vehicle costs from the fuel savings.

Elsewhere, Clean Energy opened another CNG station in New Jersey in conjunction with Covanta Energy Corp. The two have a contract with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build and operate a CNG fueling station at the Essex County Resource Recovery Facility in Newark, NJ. Built on a Covanta site, it will serve public and private municipal waste haulers as they convert their fleets from diesel to CNG.

More recently, a summit on the transportation use of propane in Alaska was held Tuesday at which Michigan-based ROUSH CleanTech promoted its propane fueling system for vehicles as a means of stimulating job growth and environmental sustainability in the far north state. ROUSH used the summit to report on nine months of testing two propane-fueled Ford F-250 pickup trucks during the past nine months.

The test was coordinated with the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority. The state and ROUSH wanted to demonstrate how "private and public fleets using readily available alternative fuel performs in sub-zero temperatures."

"We actually re-inject millions of gallons of propane back into the North Slope every day," said Harold Heinze, CEO of the state gas development authority. "We need to find good local uses for the vast quantities of propane our state produces." Heinze said ROUSH Clean Tech has the ability to get this done.

The propane lobby stressed at the summit that nearly 90% of the fuel in the U.S. is found domestically.

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