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February 2, 2009 11:30 AM, EST
Pickens Calls for Federal Funding for Natural Gas-Powered Trucks

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Feb. 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

WASHINGTON — Billionaire oil executive T. Boone Pickens told a group of mayors he still hopes the federal government will allocate $28 billion for natural gas-powered heavy-duty trucks as a “bridge” to future technologies.

Pickens, co-founder of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which operates a chain of natural gas fueling stations in the United States and Canada, spoke Jan. 19 to the U.S. Conference of Mayors here.

He pointed to what he called “the southern California model” involving trash trucks as a way to use domestic natural gas to reduce the use of foreign oil.

“One diesel trash truck taken off the streets will replace the equivalent of 325 cars” in terms of oil consumption, Pickens said, adding that more than half of the trash trucks in southern California “have gone to natural gas.”

Pickens said he wants to use 350,000 of the nation’s “6.5 million 18-wheelers” to demonstrate how natural gas can be used for heavy-duty trucks.

Pickens said under his plan, fleets could get $75,000 per truck to purchase 350,000 natural gas-powered rigs.

That funding, he said, should go toward vehicle incentives, not into developing a distribution network, saying “the infrastructure will develop around the trucks.”

Pickens also warned that it would be impossible to go straight from diesel engines to using more radical technologies, such as hybrids or electric batteries for heavy-duty vehicles.

“I want to see the light-duty vehicles go to battery,” he said, but “a battery won’t move an 18-wheeler.”

Pickens said when he informed President Obama and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain

(R-Ariz.) of that fact last year, “both had the same reaction ‘It won’t?’ ”

Natural gas, Pickens said, then is a bridge to future technologies and “we have to get across the bridge and to the next generation of fuel.”

Shifting to natural gas for transportation, as well as other elements of his plan, “creates jobs but it also will reduce dependence on foreign oil,” by as much as 50% in 10 years.

Several fleets have begun using small numbers of natural gas vehicles in regional operations.

In December, Daimler Trucks North America delivered more than 200 trucks powered by liquefied natural gas to intermodal carrier California Cartage Co. and to the Port of Long Beach.

Last February, Wal-Mart Stores began using four LNG trucks as part of its fleet in southern California.