Natural gas is an off-the-shelf technology for cars and trucks. According to NGVAmerica, there are more than 10 million natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in operation around the world. However, there are only about 130,000 NGVs — about 1.3 percent — in the United States.
Conversely, batteries will not power heavy trucks and hydrogen fuel cells may be decades away from being in widespread use. We are even further away from having a battery advanced enough to efficiently power heavy trucks. Natural gas is the only fuel capable of offsetting imported diesel to power heavy trucks — the 18-wheelers which move goods around America.
Over-the-road truckers frequently run the same routes and stop in the same places on a regular basis. Unlike passenger cars and SUVs, truckers generally use the same facilities to eat, rest and refuel along their routes.
In addition to over-the-road trucks, there are a growing number of transit companies converting to all-natural gas municipal buses. In Los Angeles alone there are more than 2,800 NGV buses in operation.
Refuse and recycling trucks are among the most inefficient vehicles on the road. They are either at idle or driving at walking speeds for most of their work day. San Diego County is aggressively replacing its refuse and recycling trucks with NGVs. They are more fuel efficient, more environmentally friendly, and they are much quieter.
Any fleet operator — taxi cabs, utilities, and express delivery firms, for example — whose vehicles go back to “the barn” every night are candidates to be up-fitted to NGVs. AT&T, which operates one of the largest domestic fleets in America, recently announced it is purchasing approximately 8,000 vehicles over the next few years to replace gasoline and diesel vehicles with NGVs.
Even with higher initial costs (which will disappear as manufacturing ramps up) the life-cycle costs of NGVs are significantly lower. Fuel costs are at least 15 percent less using natural gas rather than gasoline or diesel. An equivalent gallon of compressed natural gas (CNG) provides the same miles per gallon as a gallon of gasoline. And the cleaner burning nature of the fuel means maintenance costs are reduced because engine parts such as spark plugs stay cleaner while operating on natural gas.