In one of the biggest natural gas vehicle (NGV) advancements to date, United Parcel Service (UPS) last week said it plans to further transform its nationwide transit fleet by purchasing 700 more liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles and spending $18 million to build four LNG fueling stations in Tennessee and Texas by the end of 2014.

UPS, which has been operating NGVs for more than a decade and has more than 1,000 NGV in its fleet today, said it is responding to natural gas prices that are 30-40% lower than diesel fuel and the the continuing upswing in domestic gas production. UPS plans to invest “more aggressively” in gas infrastructure needed to transform its delivery fleet. “Beyond favorable fuel cost and domestic resource access, the industry cites 25% less carbon dioxide emissions.”

Overall, UPS boasts an “alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet” numbering more than 2,600 vehicles, including low-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, electric hybrids, hydraulic hybrids, propane, compressed natural gas (CNG) and biomethane. The alternative fuel fleet has now logged more than 295 million miles globally, according to the company.

The new UPS fueling stations are to be in Dallas, as well as in Tennessee in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. With the additional accessibility of LNG fueling, UPS said it would add LNG trucks on its Texas routes from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio to further extend its range. UPS currently operates 112 LNG-fueled tractor-trailers from stations in Las Vegas; Phoenix, AZ; Salt Lake City and Beaver, UT; and in Ontario, CA.

“LNG will be a viable alternative transportation fuel for UPS in the next decade as a bridge between traditional fossil fuels and emerging renewable alternative fuels and technologies that are not quite ready for broad-based, long-term commercial deployment,” said CEO Scott Davis. He credited “public-private partnerships and legislative action” as steps that can remove “disincentives” from fuel taxes on natural gas as well as helping offset the higher incremental costs of NGVs.

“We plan expansion through infrastructure partnerships and a broader fleet in states that are leading the way to make alternative fuel vehicles economically feasible,” he said.

ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance talked about the UPS plan and others last week at Columbia University in New York City. U.S. natural gas supplanting diesel and gasoline is the “next logical step” for surplus U.S. supplies. “It’s coming; it’s a natural progression.” H e acknowledged that there is a “chicken-egg situation,” as to whether more trucks should be built that “can be fueled” with compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas “or more fueling stations.”

Meanwhile, Waste Management Inc. (WM) has opened a CNG fueling station at the Altamont Landfill in Livermore, CA, turning LNG it derives from the landfill into CNG, a bio-LNG-to-CNG process. The Altamontplant is a joint venture between WM and Linde, rated for 13,000 gallon/d of production.

WM trucks bring their loads to the Altamont landfill and then refuel there. Transfer trucks refuel with “trash gas,” or biomethane, while the refuse haulers can refuel with CNG. “It’s not exactly the ‘Back to the Future’ scenario, but close,” said Ken Lewis, WM area director of disposal operations. “It is just a beautiful thing. For [us] to take this step is huge.”

On the fueling end, Houston-based Nat G CNG Solutions has introduced a skid-mounted modular CNG fueling equipment design that it proposes to lease for $1,200/month, or 19 cents/gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE). The system can produce 550 GGEs of CNG daily, or enough to meet the needs of a 50-vehicle fleet. Another unit of Nat G claims to have completed the first Navistar DT 444 school bus conversion, the first Dodge Ram for NatGasCar, and the first Cummins ISX dual-fuel conversion.

And Altech-Eco in mid-April said it was lowering prices on Ford Transit Connect conversions by about $1,500. Altech-Eco provides both dedicated-CNG and CNG-gasoline bi-fuel conversions. “We are reducing the price of our CNG systems to help stimulate the market and attract new customers that may not be able to afford CNG systems with current prices on the market, and we will continue to make cost reductions until it is affordable for everyone,” said Vice President Miles George.

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