By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer
Once thought to be a pie in the sky fuel alternative for long-haul truckers, major players in the transportation industry are vying for position to build a national infrastructure for liquefied natural gas – or LNG – and soon.
In June, Shell entered a memorandum of understanding with TravelCenters of America LLC of Westlake, OH, to potentially build a network of more than 200 LNG fuel lanes at approximately 100 TAs and Petro Stopping Centers in the U.S.
Since diesel prices spiked above the $5 mark in 2008, there has been a renewed call to pursue domestic alternative energy sources like LNG to power America’s trucks.
LNG is natural gas cooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to form a liquid. The cooling process removes impurities and heavy hydrocarbons, making it one of the cleanest burning fuels because it produces nearly zero particulate emissions.
Shell executive predicts LNG network throughout North America
Diesel is offered at every truck stop along the nation’s highways, and a Shell executive says he envisions the same for liquefied natural gas.
James Burns, Shell’s general manager for LNG Gas in Transport, Americas, told Land Line in June that Shell is investing nearly $300 million to build out this infrastructure for long-haul truckers.
“Historically, natural gas vehicles have been limited to specific regional geographies, and what we envision, in the not-too-far distance, is a world where infrastructure is a non-issue,” Burns said. “So we plan on rolling out these additional projects that will eventually bring all of these regional projects into a robust infrastructure for the heavy-duty trucking industry.”
Shell is already part of a joint venture with another truck stop chain in Canada to build LNG fueling stations as part of its Green Corridor project.
“We are a trusted fuel provider and want to give truckers the option of LNG, diesel or other potential alternative fuels that are out there,” Burns said.
TA is ready to lead
Thomas M. O’Brien, managing director, president and chief executive officer of TravelCenters told Land Line in June that TA is prepared to lead the LNG charge.
“I think there are a lot of trucking companies that are attracted to the difference in cost between diesel and natural gas that exists today,” O’Brien said. “That difference is making them look pretty hard at whether natural gas-fueled engines make sense.”
As trucking companies make tough economic decisions about whether to stick with diesel, switch their operations to natural gas or use a mix of both fuels, O’Brien said the number one question for long-haul operations deals with the infrastructure question about where their trucks will fuel up when out on the road.
The second question deals with potential repair and maintenance issues they face out on the road if they switch from diesel to LNG-powered vehicles.
O’Brien said the tentative agreement with Shell to development LNG fuel lanes answers both questions “pretty well.”
“If our arrangement with Shell comes together, we are well-positioned to lead here,” he said. “We have 238 operating centers, 1,000 bays and 3,000 technicians.” LL