The concept of a national highway for natural gas-fueled long-haul trucks received some roadside assistance Thursday when Shell Oil Co. and major truck stop operator TravelCenters of America LLC (TA) announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for Shell to provide liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the fueling station operator for sale to heavy-duty truck operators.

The companies said pending final agreements, the plans are to construct more than 200 LNG fueling lanes at about 100 TA sites and Petro Stopping Centers along major U.S. interstate highways throughout the nation. With final agreements, the first of the LNG lanes are expected to be operational next year.

A unit of Royal Dutch Shell plc, Shell Oil said the agreement with its LNG unit represents the next phase in Shell's plan to provide trucking fleet customers in North America with "robust fueling infrastructure." TA is the largest full-service truck stop chain in the United States. Last year Shell said it would sell LNG to its heavy-duty fleet customers at Flying J truck stops in Alberta, Canada beginning this year. The first LNG retail plaza in Calgary is expected to open later this year.

Operator of 238 service/fueling stops as "TA" or "Petro Stopping" facilities, TA said details of the MOU are expected to be negotiated. It plans to train and equip a sufficient number of TA's 3,000 repair technicians, 1,000 truck service bays and 400 emergency roadside repair vehicles to take care of natural gas-powered truck engines.

Shell's recent plunge into the natural gas transportation fueling sector underscores how it intends to "move forward in its strategy to develop a global downstream LNG fuel sales business for commercial customers in the truck sector," in addition to marine, mining and rail markets, a spokesperson said.

"Shell sees great potential for LNG as a fuel option among our range of quality fuels, due to the sheer abundance and affordability of domestic natural gas in North America," said Elen Phillips, vice president for fuels sales and marketing in North America, who added LNG represents a strong alternative to diesel in the trucking sector. "Where it makes sense and where there is customer demand, we will innovate to deliver LNG as an additional fuel offer."

TA CEO Thomas O'Brien lauded the chance to partner with Shell "to create the infrastructure necessary to offer trucking company customers an alternative fuel choice." O'Brien said this can help the United States move toward more energy independence.

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