Truckstop Executives, Carriers Discuss the Future of Natural Gas

Truckstop executives, speaking on a panel at the American Trucking Association's Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking, said the emergence of natural gas as a viable fuel for the commercial trucking industry is a matter of when, not if, issues such as a cost-effective fuel supply network, a new generation of engines and driver acceptance are overcome. Jimmy Haslam, chairman and CEO of Pilot Flying J, Frank Love, president of operations for Love’s Travel Stops, and Thomas O’Brien, CEO of TravelCenters of America spoke in the session “Infrastructure Hurdles: The Chicken or the Egg.

Over the last year, major truckstop chains have announced plans to integrate natural gas into their fuel offerings. Pilot Flying J, through a partnership with Clean Energy Fuels, will be offering liquid natural gas at 150 locations by 2013, with nearly 70 locations complete by the end of 2012. TravelCenters of America has partnered with Shell to install 200 liquefied natural dispensers at 100 locations by 2013. Love's Truck Stops has started installing at locations in areas where there is market demand, specifically Oklahoma and Texas. The truck stop executives commented that they envision natural gas eventually being sold on the fuel island along side other fuels.

During the summit, natural gas producers and advocates said the trucking industry’s adoption of natural gas vehicles will be driven by favorable economics made possible by a vast domestic supply of the fuel. During his opening remarks at the summit ATA Chairman Michael Card, president of Combined Transport, Central Point, Ore., said that the trucking industry, which has been wedded to the use of diesel fuel for more than half a century, is now “experiencing firsthand what might become a game-changer regarding the types of fuel fleets may use to deliver the nation’s freight.”

Interest in natural gas in trucking being driven by price. A diesel gallon equivalent for natural gas is about half that of diesel fuel. But summit participants acknowledged that that the most aggressive projections for natural gas powered trucks is approximately seven percent of the fleet within five years.

While the trucking industry cautiously embraces natural gas's potential, the economics of the fuel will drive its adoption by other sectors of transportation.

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This article originally ran in NATSO News Weekly (NNW), NATSO's member only weekly electronic newsletter. NNW is packed with the latest updates on government and business issues affecting the truckstop and travel plaza industry.

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NATSO News Weekly (NNW)
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