LNG-Powered Transportation Fires Up

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) hosted a reception at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston on Jan. 23 and one of the pieces of “art” on display was a brand new, LNG-powered Peterbilt truck. It was an impressive display of the latest technology for LNG-powered vehicles.  The truck was fitted with 120-gallon tanks that give the vehicle a range of about 600 miles.  The engine includes Westport Innovations’ high-pressure, direct-injection (HPDI) fuel injection technology. ANGA was using the occasion to honor Texas State Sen. Tommy Williams for his landmark natural gas vehicle legislation, passed by the 2011 Texas Legislature, that will pave the way for wider-scale deployment of lower cost, cleaner fuel vehicles across Texas. ANGA’s Texas State Committee presented Williams with the Blue Flame Award for his work with local and state elected officials to highlight the benefits of Senate Bill 20, his legislation that created the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle, which is a sustainable network of natural gas refueling stations connecting Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth along I-10, I-35, and I-45. That would be the second major LNG transportation triangle in the country.  The first network is from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. As these networks begin to expand, the long-haul trucking industry is in for some big changes in fuels and delivery systems.  Clean Energy, T. Boone Pickens’ company, completed its latest LNG fueling station in Las Vegas near the UPS Depot.  This is another link in the chain of stations from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. President Barack Obama used the occasion, speaking at the UPS Depot, to promote gas-powered trucking. Obama proposed several federal initiatives including getting more natural gas vehicles on the road, offering new tax incentives to help companies buy more clean trucks, working with the private sector to help develop natural gas fueling stations and launching a competition to encourage new breakthroughs for natural gas vehicles, according to Clean Energy. Clean Energy committed in 2011 to support development of “America’s Natural Gas Highway” from the West Coast to the East Coast and from the Canadian border to the Mexican border by building the backbone network of 150 fueling stations.  About 70 LNG stations are expected to be open in 33 states by the end of 2012 and the balance in 2013. Having covered the LNG-powered transportation business for 11 years, I can say this effort has been a very long time in coming.  Development of LNG/CNG fuel stations was very sporadic and widely scattered across the country. Now there is an even greater push for long-haul trucking to begin using LNG as a fuel.  Virtually every major trucking company has studied LNG for fuel, but the infrastructure was lacking.  Now, with a surplus of shale gas production, LNG-powered trucking is getting a huge boost in switching from diesel to natural gas.  It is excellent to see more widespread use of domestic natural gas resources in backing out petroleum imports. And, it is not only LNG-powered trucks we’re beginning to see, but also ships.  According to a Jan. 6 announcement from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), offshore supply vessels (OSVs) in the U.S. Gulf Coast region are seen as likely targets for switching to LNG for propulsion fuel -- at least partly replacing marine gasoil (MGO) or heavy fuel oil (HFO). ABS recently classified two new LNG/diesel dual-fueled OSVs under construction in Houston for Harvey Gulf International Marine. “This is likely to be the beginning of a trend for OSVs in the region.  The availability of LNG and the implementation of the U.S. [marine vessel] Emission Control Area (ECA) starting in August 2012 make it a natural choice for fuel both from the commercial and environmental point-of-view,” explained ABS chief engineer Kirsi Tikka. The new Harvey LNG vessels “will be among the first to be classed under the ABS Guide for Propulsion and Auxiliary Systems for Gas Fueled Ships released in May 2011,” according to ABS. Shane Guidry, Harvey Gulf International Marine chairman, added that “these will be the first dual-fueled LNG-powered vessels under the U.S. flag.” Of course, the effort to power offshore vessels with LNG isn’t new.  In 1987, the University of Alabama (UA) placed an LNG-powered, 70-ft. shrimp boat into service in the Gulf of Mexico and operated it until 1990.  The LNG was used to freeze the shrimp as well as power the vessel, saving $10,000 per year in ice purchases, according to UA. UA also completed preliminary designs and studies for CNG- or LNG-powered 130-ft. crewboats for Exxon in Santa Barbara, CA, in 1992 and for Amoco in New Orleans in 1994. The U.S. Coast Guard approved the Exxon preliminary design. Statoil has been using LNG-powered service vessels in the North Sea for several years. There is a wealth of information on LNG-fueled transportation available today.  We should use more of it and open up new domestic markets for natural gas. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at sweeden@hartenergy.com.