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November 26, 2012 9:00 AM, EST
ATA’s Summit on Natural Gas to Focus on Alt-Fuels for Fleets
Mindy Long for TT

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the Nov. 26 print edition of Transport Topics.

American Trucking Associations this week will convene a two-day, public conference on the industry’s use of natural gas, a development that several executives said may significantly alter U.S. trucking operations by displacing much of the diesel fuel the industry burns.

The sold-out ATA Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking will run Nov. 28-30 in Arlington, Va., and has attracted more than 500 attendees, more than twice the number the trucking federation originally thought would attend.

The 11 sessions draw together executives from trucking, truck and engine manufacturing, truck stops, natural-gas producers and vehicle maintenance. There will also be representatives from the U.S. Energy Department, an environmental advocacy group and several policy groups, and two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“This is a cutting-edge symposium,”  said ATA Chairman Michael Card. “ATA is very concerned about the environment, engine exhaust and reducing our carbon footprint.”

“We also need our country to be more energy self-sufficient, and this has the potential to help America’s energy security,” said Card, who is also president of Combined Transport Inc., Central Point, Ore.

“We couldn’t be happier with the quality of the speakers we have attracted,” said ATA President Bill Graves.

“We’ve moved past the question of whether natural gas is viable as a fuel for trucking. It certainly is, but now we have to go fleet by fleet and look at the details,” Graves said.

In talking to fleet executives during the year, Graves said he has seen carriers fit into three groups: those that are already very involved with CNG or LNG — compressed or liquefied natural gas — and have already generated results; those that are seriously inclined toward using natural gas but aren’t entirely sold; and those that are pessimistic and far from being sold.

“There will be information in this summit that is relevant for people in all three camps,” Graves said.

Among fleets with a demonstrated interest, Ryder System said Nov. 15 that it now owns 215 CNG tractors and 35 powered by LNG. Collectively, the vehicles have racked up more than 6 million miles, displacing 923,000 gallons of diesel that would have been burned last year and this year.

Ryder, based in Miami, ranks No. 10 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers and works in full-service truck leasing and dedicated contract carriage.

Ryder Vice President Scott Perry will speak at the summit about maintenance and shop considerations, along with executives from Navistar Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and supermarket chain Giant Eagle Inc.

If the use of natural gas spreads, it will be particularly important for truck stops.

“There’s a lot of discussion about this among truck stop operators. This could be the next big fuel,” said Lisa Mullings, president of Natso Inc., a trade group representing truck stop operators.

Mullings said many members of her industry have changed significantly in their attitude toward natural gas over the past 12 months.

“More and more of them are starting to put in natural gas. There’s a lot less uncertainty about this than there was a year ago,” she said.

Graves will moderate a panel discussion early in the program featuring top executives from three of the largest truck stop chains: Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J; Tom O’Brien, CEO of TravelCenters of America; and Frank Love, president of Love’s Travel Stops.

All major North American heavy-duty truck and engine makers plan to send a representative to the panel moderated by Transport Topics Publisher and Editorial Director Howard Abramson. Executives from Freightliner Trucks, Kenworth Trucks, Navistar and Volvo Group will talk about their approaches to natural-gas power.

Joining them will be representatives from the three companies that currently make or adapt engines to run on natural gas: Cummins Inc., Westport Innovations and a joint venture of the two companies, Cummins-Westport.

From the natural-gas industry, executives from four companies are set to discuss production and distribution. ConocoPhillips and Questar Corp. executives will join T. Boone Pickens of BP Capital Management and Andrew Littlefair, CEO of Clean Energy Fuels Corp.

Clean Energy has been involved in a major campaign to bring LNG fueling equipment to truck stops. Pickens is a major investor in Clean Energy.

Two Republican House members are scheduled to talk about the politics of natural gas, Lee Terry of Nebraska and John Sullivan of Oklahoma.

Jerry Moyes, chairman and CEO of Swift Transportation Co., will be among those discussing the business case for natural gas. He will be joined by executives from UPS Inc. and Lynden Inc.

Card and Graves said the summit is the brainchild of two ATA staff members, Senior Vice President Dave Osiecki and Vice President of Environmental Affairs Glen Kedzie.

Graves also said ATA will probably follow up with another summit in 2013 on a different topic to be specified later.