Given the fact North American fuel prices are still well below record highs of a decade ago, the natural market – driven by a new set of market forces – keeps inching forward, a panel of industry insiders said at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo.
As reported by Fleet Owner magazine, the spotlight on natural gas commercial trucks as an alternative power resource has “dimmed a bit” since diesel prices began falling over several years. But proponents say the industry is overcoming challenges and turning a corner.
“The tide has shifted,” said Dean Stapleton, senior manager of alternative fuels for Penske Truck Leasing. “It is not a money play. It is now a sustainability play, a lot of times driven by the shipper.”
Many barriers exist, however, such as initial higher vehicle cost, compared with diesel, and fueling infrastructure is still lacking in many parts of North America.
But with the passage of time comes a better understanding on how to overcome other obstacles and new technology is further alleviating other worries.
William Nowicke, COO and president at Agility Fuel Solutions, said fewer sensors and elimination of diesel particulate filters makes the maintenance of natural gas-fired trucks easier than conventional diesels.
“Natural gas trucks can outperform traditional diesel models on a cost-per-mile basis after five years,” he explained.
There are some signals the natural gas market is gaining traction.
In April, research firm ACT reported that U.S. and Canadian natural gas heavy-duty sales have accelerated, even if they remain only about 3% share of the overall market.
Penske’s Stapleton suggested it would only take one incident to send diesel soaring for the mood surrounding natural gas to change instantaneously.
“If oil goes to $80-to-$90 a barrel, we won’t be able to keep the phone on the hook,” he said.
Last year, the Ontario government committing $250 million towards investment for technology to reduce carbon emissions from heavy trucks. OTA – which has called for some sort of subsidy or incentives to propel the commercial truck natural gas market as well as it make it easier for fuel suppliers to build fueling infrastructure – continues to work with the province on developments.