Natural gas had “lost a little of its luster,” admitted Brett Lindsay, vice president of sales at Clean Energy Fuels Corp. He is far from alone in this assessment. Executives with Trillium CNG and Ryder System were among others who told Fleet Owner that some of the initial excitement surrounding natural gas as a transportation fuel subsided in recent years. With a prolonged period of stable diesel fuel prices and new competition emerging from electric vehicles, “we’ve got to go back out and spark it again,” Lindsay said.
There are several new tools at the disposal of the natural gas industry that could make that effort successful.
“What we’ve seen in the last couple of years are major investments into renewable natural gas and renewable diesel,” Bill Cashmareck, managing director of Trillium CNG, said. “That is the glue putting this excitement back together.”
There is also the new Cummins Westport ISX 12N engine that Cashmareck and Lindsay both said would provide natural gas users performance and efficiency they have never experienced before. Combined with extended engine oil intervals and a growing fueling infrastructure, it is a moment of “reintroduction” for the industry, Lindsay said.
Chris Nordh, Ryder’s senior director of advanced vehicle technologies and energy products, said some fleets could still pause on natural gas purchases as they ponder the possibilities of electric vehicles (see sidebar, page 58). But that should not prevent natural gas growth, which Nordh said should be measured not in how many stations are built, but instead how much fuel is consumed and vehicles purchased.
Retail sales of Class 8 natural gas trucks in the United States and Canada were up 9% year to date through November 2017, according to ACT Research.
“Despite the uncertainty spurred by the current climate of changing environmental winds and low oil prices, the reading indicates continued interest in natural gas as a transportation fuel in the U.S. Class 8 market,” Ken Vieth, senior partner and general manager at ACT, said.