With crude oil prices at a six-month high and natural gas prices at a 30-month low, T. Boone Pickens has renewed his argument that long-haul trucks are better served using natural gas as a fuel as compared to diesel. Pickens’ advocacy for using gas as a vehicle fuel began in 2008 with his “Pickens’ Plan,” a multi-faceted strategy to end the United States’ dependency on foreign oil. The former oil investor is now bullish on natural gas and is highlighting opportunities in the transportation arena.
According to Pickens, if trucking companies took the 8.5 million 18-wheel trucks that drive U.S. roads and converted them from diesel to natural gas, it would reduce the daily U.S. oil demand by 2.5 billion barrels. Long-haul trucks are similar in usage to busses and delivery vehicles in that they take the same routes on a regular basis. While trucks do not return to the same home base each night, infrastructure already exists for trucks to refuel as needed on major supply routes. With some modifications, most truck stops would be able to add natural gas fueling pumps to their existing diesel and oil fueling stations.
Of course, prices change, and there is concern that, over time as natural gas is increasingly used to generate electricity for environmental reasons, prices will increase as they did in the last decade. Part of Pickens’ original plan was a switch from natural-gas-fired electricity to wind turbines. This would have reduced natural gas demand by the electricity sector and freed it up for the transportation sector. However, building wind farms is fraught with its own list of complications, and this part of Pickens’ strategy has not come to fruition.
Still, with the U.S. natural gas supply looking robust while tensions and prices rise in the Middle East’s oil-producing countries, it’s easy to daydream about a nation in which we could sustain our own energy needs. According to Pickens, switching the preferred fuel of long-haul trucks from diesel to natural gas will move the U.S. closer to this reality.
Meanwhile, there also is interest in expanding the use of natural gas into the pickup truck market. The “Big Three” U.S. automobile manufacturers — Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — have introduced new hybrid pickups that run on natural gas and gasoline. The trucks made their debut last month at the World Truck Show in Indianapolis. The manufacturers are now offering standard warranty packages and they promise a two- to three-year payback on the hybrid vehicle. The limiting factors are simply fuel storage and infrastructure, but these can be addressed just as with the long-haul trucking segment.
By Christina Nagy McKenna, Enerdynamics Instructor
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