If you’re skeptical about the future of natural gas in trucking, meet Thomas O’Brien, president and CEO of TravelCenters of America.
“The math is close enough and we’re moving on,” said O’Brien Tuesday in an assertive message to hundreds of fuel and transportation experts gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 2013 Alternative Clean Transportation Expo.
Skeptics list several roadblocks to widespread adoption of natural gas, O’Brien said.
They say the equipment costs more than diesel equipment, both up-front and in terms of the risk. If the demand for natural gas goes up and diesel goes down, then gas loses its pricing edge. And the infrastructure to distribute gas is not in place.
This is “pencil pushing,” O’Brien said. “Nobody really cares any more.”
He said TA, a full-service truck stop chain with 165 locations, is committed to providing natural gas at its facilities, because his customers want it.
TA and Shell are planning a nationwide network of liquefied natural gas fueling centers for trucking customers. The first of 100 or so planned gas fueling lanes at TA and Petro Stopping Centers is scheduled to open next year.
TA has selected the first 20 locations, O’Brien said. They will start in California, Texas and Nevada, and the result will be well-connected corridors where natural gas is available.
The installations are more expensive than diesel – six to seven times more expensive – but that cost will come down as volume goes up.
There’s more to the decision than just the immediate infrastructure cost, though. The discovery of natural gas resources, and of the fracking technology to tap them, is a game changer for the United States, O’Brien said
“Natural gas has the ability to transform the transportation industry, to meaningfully expand the economy and can help ensure energy independence."
Natural gas could provide the largest single competitive advantage the United States has enjoyed in the past century, he said.
“The dreamers found it. Now it’s up to us to act. We need to work together to use our new advantage wisely. Alternatives to polluting foreign fuel are here today and are here to stay.”
The pace of adoption is accelerating. O’Brien said many large fleets are testing or converting to natural gas, and some are predicting that gas could reach 40% of the heavy-duty market.
He said he is confident of TA’s role in adopting the fuel.
“We have taken the time to plan to do it right,” he said. “For those who may come to rely on over-the-road liquid natural gas, TA will hold up its end.”