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Natural Gas Vehicles in 2013 – Part 1

January 29, 2013

Little has changed since first commenting on natural gas vehicles two years ago.

Essentially, the only changes have been that Cummins is now manufacturing NG engines for long haul trucks (eighteen wheelers) in addition to those of the Westport design, and the number of LNG fueling stations has increased somewhat, with more manufacturers, including GE, manufacturing fueling stations for CNG and LNG.

One might imagine that there would be faster adoption of NG vehicles, but the major obstacles still remain: The lack of fueling stations and the lack of availability of NG light vehicles.

Honda remains the only manufacturer of NG passenger vehicles in the U.S. market, but GM, Ford and Chrysler have begun offering NG pick-up trucks.

The amount of natural gas used for vehicles has nearly doubled over the past ten years to 32,850 million cu ft of natural gas in 2011, from 14,536 million in 2001.

Half of 2011 consumption was in California, with 15,246 million cu. ft. California has over 160 fueling stations, or roughly 20% of U.S. NG fueling stations open to the public.

Table 1 shows the total number of fueling stations in the United States.

TABLE 1

Type fueling station

Number Existing in United States

LNG for long distance trucks (18 wheelers) <10
LNG for fleets 40
CNG available to public (includes private stations) 820
CNG total,  including private stations 1,134
Gasoline 157,000

Another major factor that is affecting the adoption of natural gas is the higher cost of NG vehicles, as shown in Table 2. The data has remained essentially unchanged since 2009.

TABLE 2

Type

Number Vehicles

Fuel Used

Incremental or Conversion Cost for Natural Gas

Heavy-duty long distance trucks (18 wheelers) 3.8 million 1.25 mb/d $70,000
Heavy-duty fleet trucks1 1.0 million (See note) 0.38 mb/d $70,000
Medium-duty fleet trucks 3.9 million 0.4 mb/d $32,000
Transit buses 0.07 million 0.04 mb/d $50,000
School buses 0.7 million 0.6 mb/d $32,000
Light vehicles 237 million 8.2 mb/d $6,000 for cars$11,000 for pick-up trucks2
Notes:1.Estimate 20% of 4.8 million 18 wheelers and 20% of 1.63 mb/d fuel used

2. Duel fueled gasoline and natural gas, vehicles.

Sources: Energy Information Administration and National Renewable Energy Laboratory

When examining the engines and fuel tanks, it’s difficult to justify the size of the premiums for heavy-duty trucks, other than that manufacturing volumes are very low. I suspect the premium could be cut in half if manufacturing volumes doubled or tripled.

Add to these factors the cost of building NG fueling stations, as shown in Table 3, and it’s clear why there hasn’t been a more rapid adoption of NG for transportation.

TABLE 3

Type fueling station

Cost

LNG (50,000 DGE per month or approx. 10 trucks per day) $2 million each station
LNG (150,000 DGE per month or approx. 20 trucks per day) $4 million each station
LNG (300,000 DGE per month or approx. 40 trucks per day) $6 million each station
CNG (Low volume. 25,000 GGE) $1 million each station
CNG (Moderate volume. 50,000 GGE) $2 million each station
DGE = Diesel Gallons equivalentGGE = Gasoline Gallon Equivalent

For LNG stations, assume truck tank size is 200 gallons of DGE

The advent of multiple suppliers of NG fueling stations, e.g. GE, Chesapeake Energy and Clean Energy Fuels, could bring down the cost of new stations.

Part 2, examines whether there is an economic justification for increasing the number of NG vehicles?

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