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12/3/2012 9:00:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Truckers Told Nat Gas Growth Depends on Related Changes

John Sommers II for Transport Topics
By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

ARLINGTON, Va. — The emergence of natural gas as a viable fuel for trucking is dependent on progress in overcoming infrastructure hurdles such as a dependable fuel supply network, a new generation of engines and driver acceptance, industry experts said last week.

“The big question is timing,” James Haslam II, chairman of Pilot Flying J, said when he addressed the American Trucking Associations’ Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking here on Nov. 29.

The summit, which continued on Nov. 30, after this edition was printed, attracted executives from fleets, tractor and engine manufacturers, and truck stop operators, suppliers and scientists. All were seeking to gauge the commercial promise of an alternative fuel to diesel, whose price stubbornly remains around $4 a gallon.

ATA President Bill Graves, who moderated a panel of truck stop executives, illustrated the broad interest in the subject by saying that “people always pose the question” about the future of natural gas as a truck fuel wherever he travels. The event drew an overflow crowd of more than 500 attendees.

“The energy boom is the single greatest thing the country has going for it,” Pilot’s Haslam said. “We have to take advantage of this. The best place to do it is with trucks. We believe we will have the infrastructure in place to take care of your needs.”

Pilot Flying J is backing up that stance by building a natural-gas fueling network in partnership with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. The plan is to have 70 locations equipped by the end of this year and 150 by the end of 2013.

Thomas O’Brien, the CEO of TravelCenters of America, agreed but said the investment is too great to take on alone.

“Natural gas is a very viable option over the long term,” he said. “The demand today from customers, frankly, is not sufficient to start this on my own.”

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