“America’s Natural Gas Highway” took a big leap forward infrastructure-wise last Thursday with the announcement of a proposed first phase of development in 70 liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel locations that would open in 33 states by the end of this year.

Seal Beach, CA-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the LNG supplier and station developer for the natural gas vehicle (NGV) corridor, which is particularly aimed at long-haul truckers, said it has identified the first 98 of an eventual 150 natural gas fueling locations, many of which would be located at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers that already serve the trucking sector. Clean Energy has an agreement with Pilot-Flying J to build, own and operate fueling facilities (see NGI, Aug. 29, 2011). Pilot has more than 550 locations in 47 states, a Clean Energy spokesperson said.

Earlier this month Clean Energy said that it completed 50% more fueling stations last year than in 2010, and it plans to accelerate its development program this year. Clean Energy said it completed 68 fueling station projects in 16 states in 2011, including five LNG truck fueling stations that are part of its natural gas highway.

In the first phase of development this year, major highway segments are to include: San Diego-Los Angeles-Riverside in California to Las Vegas, NV; the Texas Triangle of Houston-San Antonio-Dallas/Fort Worth; Los Angeles-Dallas; Houston-Chicago; and Chicago-Atlanta. Also planned is a network of stations along major highways in parts of the Midwest and Southeast, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama.

Clean Energy hopes to complete 150 fueling stations by the end of next year. The timetable coincides with the expected commercial arrival of natural gas truck engines suited for heavy duty and over-the-road trucking by manufacturers that include Cummins-Westport, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Navistar, Freightliner and Caterpillar.

Last week a newcomer in the electric vehicle (EV) sector made a direct run at a niche of the NGV market, light-duty fleet pickup trucks. At the Detroit auto show, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Orem, UT-based VIA Motors introduced an extended-range EV. PG&E has been operating two NGV demonstration pickup trucks as part of its fleet of 3,500 light-duty vehicles.

VIA’s technology claims to allow a a 400-mile driving range between chargings. After the first 40 miles the hybrid vehicle switches back and forth between electric and gasoline power.

Separately, Barclays Capital analysts last week said EVs will have “a minimal effect” on power and gas demand through 2020, if current estimates for only modest growth in EV use prove to be accurate. Using sales forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and its equity research team, which are forecasting power demand growth of 0.02% and 0.10%, respectively, from EVs over the next decade, Barclays estimated that natural gas consumption would rise a “modest” 7-27 MMcf/d.

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