Natural Gas for Transportation Part I

Pickens reportedly spent $60 million on his campaign to promote natural gas for transportation.

Here’s my two cents worth.

Any analysis of using natural gas for transportation should begin by examining each natural gas vehicle market segment.

The market can be segmented as follows:




Fueling Distribution
Heavy-duty, long distance trucks (18 wheelers) LNG Wide geographic
Heavy-duty fleet trucks serving limited geographic area LNG Centralized, or Limited geographic
Medium-duty fleet trucks LNG or CNG Centralized
Transit buses CNG Centralized
School buses CNG Centralized
Light vehicles CNG Wide geographic


With current status:



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 trucks (See note) 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
Note: Estimate 20% of 4.8 million 18 wheelers and 20% of 1.63 mb/d fuel usedSources: Energy Information Administration and National Renewable Energy Laboratory  




Type fueling station

Number Existing in United States

LNG for long distance trucks (18 wheelers) 0
LNG for fleets 40
CNG for fleets only 50
CNG available to public 820
Gasoline 116,000


Cost information for building fueling stations is also the most difficult to obtain. Here is the best I have been able to determine.


Type fueling station


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


Costs must be compared with market segmentation. At first reading, the largest segment is light vehicles, but costs, in the form of fueling stations, becomes enormous.

The cost of providing 70,000 CNG fueling stations, or approximately 60% of existing gasoline stations, would be approximately $139,000,000,000 ($139 billion).

The cost of LNG fueling stations for 4,000 truck stops would be $16,000,000,000 ($16 billion) for modestly sized stations.

Finally, there is the question of vehicle availability.

Heavy-duty and medium-duty trucks can be built and retrofitted in the United States.

With respect to light vehicles, there is only one CNG vehicle available in the United States today, the Honda Civic GS. However, most other automobile manufacturers build natural gas vehicles in foreign countries, and it would be relatively easy for them to build these vehicles here.

There is another drawback to light vehicles powered by natural gas, and it is range. The Civic GS has a range of 225 miles. Natural gas has less energy content than gasoline, and would require a gas tank about four times as large as a standard gasoline tank. Accommodating the size limitation results in less range.

With this information as background, let’s look at some alternatives in Part II.


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