Stopped Dead in itsTracks

Using natural gas for powering automobiles and trucks has been stopped dead in its tracks by the low price of gasoline and diesel fuel.

When Saudi Arabia decided to maintain its output of oil to keep its market share, it resulted, whether intentionally or not, in stopping, or at least slowing down, the move toward using natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Using compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) as a transportation fuel, relies on there being a sufficient spread between the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel, and that of CNG and LNG respectively.

Using CNG and LNG requires special tanks and fueling stations, which adds to the cost of using natural gas.

Table 1, based on 2013 data, shows the added cost per vehicle for equipping them to use natural gas.



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


Heavy-duty fleet trucks1 1.0 million 0.38 mb/d


Medium-duty fleet trucks 3.9 million 0.4 mb/d


Transit buses 0.07 million 0.04 mb/d


School buses 0.7 million 0.6 mb/d


Light vehicles 237 million 8.2 mb/d

$6,000 for cars

$11,000 for pick-up trucks2


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

The added cost of equipping vehicles to use natural gas must be offset by lower costs for GNG or LNG.

The low price of oil has resulted in the cost differential between CNG and gasoline, and LNG and diesel fuel virtually disappearing.

CNG, Gasoline and Diesel prices From Department of Energy
CNG, Gasoline and Diesel prices From Department of Energy

In addition, there is a woeful lack of CNG and LNG fueling stations.

Currently, there are only 832 CNG and only 73 LNG public fueling stations in the United States. Table 2 shows the high cost of building the required infrastructure for natural gas to become a major factor in transportation.


Type fueling station

Estimated 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 equivalent GGE = Gasoline Gallon Equivalent

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

Two years ago, there was a significant effort to increase the number of fueling stations with companies such as Shell and Clean Energy Fuels saying they would build CNG and LNG fueling stations along major truck routes.

At present, the low price of gasoline and diesel fuel make the use of CNG and LNG problematic.

There will be special situations that favor the use of natural gas, especially in countries where the cost of imported diesel fuel is high and there are plentiful supplies of natural gas. This is an example from Australia where the use of CNG is being evaluated. The fiber glass cylinders, shown next to the truck, are housed in the cabinet between the wheels.

CNG Cylinders and Truck
CNG Cylinders and Truck

Conditions are bound to change as demand for oil increases with a resulting increase in its price.

Even when the price of oil increases, the ever present possibility that low prices will reemerge will remain a threat to those who want to invest in CNG and LNG vehicles.

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