Energy independence: Trucking companies see benefits of using natural gas

Several of the country's tractor-trailer fleets slowly are converting to natural gas instead of diesel in a move some say is essential to helping the country reduce its dependence on imported oil.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: October 6, 2012 at 12:19 am •  Published: October 8, 2012
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“Natural gas is a lot cleaner and dramatically cheaper than diesel,” said Matt Feighner, regional vice president for Clean Energy. “By wrapping your arms around the energy the country already has, you're going to stimulate jobs here or stop or mitigate the unbelievable wealth transfer of shipping our money overseas.”

Feighner said he is encouraged that competitors such as Shell have begun rolling out their own natural gas stations.

“It validates the direction we've taken,” he said. “Clean Energy has been the company to take a lead on this effort. Other companies are now saying they're sure it's going to work, so they're going to jump in.”

CNG options

Lakeland, Fla.-based Saddle Creek Logistics Services was one of the first trucking companies in the country to add a fleet of natural gas vehicles.

Saddle Creek has about 400 trucks and recently added 40 compressed natural gas trucks with plans for 100 more natural gas vehicles by the end of 2013.

The company chose compressed natural gas instead of liquefied natural gas partially because the LNG engines were not yet available. Compressed natural gas also was less expensive for Saddle Creek's specific needs, said John Pleasants, the company's vice president and general manager of Florida operations.

“Natural gas offers improved reliability and protection from diesel disruptions and the volatility of diesel pricing,” he said. “It also reduces the dependence on foreign oil, replacing it with the nearly unlimited supply we have of natural gas here domestically. It meets our goals and our customers' goals for environmental responsibility.”

Saddle Creek is a regional carrier with yards in the Florida Panhandle and in Atlanta. Most of its deliveries are within 500 miles of those two locations.

By using compressed natural gas, the company was able to have a compressor installed in the yard along an existing natural gas line.

Compressed natural gas-powered trucks cost about the same as trucks with diesel engines, or about $100,000 to $120,000, according to industry estimates. But they require CNG storage tanks, which cost $35,000 to $60,000, depending on capacity.

Because of the equipment costs, Saddle Creek does not expect to save much money using natural gas initially, even though the fuel charge is about $2 per gallon equivalent cheaper than diesel.

“We are in a hurricane area, but because we use natural gas, we are not threatened by a disruption of diesel supplies or of sudden price spikes,” Pleasants said. “Just about all of our customers are looking for sustainability. We are not only doing the right thing, but we are also supplying our customers with what they want.”

by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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