November 26, 2012 8:00 AM, EST

Editorial: Natural Gas and Trucking

This Editorial appears in the Nov. 26 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

The amazing response to American Trucking Associations’ Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking reaffirms just how interested the industry is in finding a cheaper, dependable alternative fuel source.

Seats to the event sold out quickly, and ATA was able to accommodate those on its waiting list only after more space was secured at the host hotel because another group switched its meeting dates.

More than 500 paid attendees will be in the audience this week, as the event unfolds on Nov. 28-30 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City hotel, adjacent to Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

This event marks the first public conference to be sponsored by ATA in recent memory; most of the federation’s events are restricted to members and invited guests.

The summit comes as prices for the industry’s primary fuel, diesel, hover near $4 a gallon. While prices have been dipping of late, the average price is close to what it was a year ago.

Proponents of natural gas point to the relative low price for that fuel. The wide cost gap has led a number of fleets to switch to, or at least to test, natural-gas-powered trucks, especially fleets that get their trucks home each night.

The fuels, however, are more difficult to handle and are still relatively hard to find, which has slowed down widespread use in the over-the-road segment of the trucking industry.

ATA’s summit is designed to answer the many questions fleet executives have about their potential use of natural gas, with some of those answers coming from fleets that are already running these vehicles.

After a welcoming reception on Wednesday, participants will hear from a steady stream of experts about their experiences with natural gas, ranging from companies that produce and distribute the fuels, to those that sell it, make equipment to use it, and customers who buy that equipment and deliver freight with it.

In all, there will be 11 formal sessions on Thursday and Friday, beginning with a primer on natural gas and ending with a panel on future trends and strategic planning.

ATA Chairman Michael Card will make opening remarks around 8:15 Thursday morning to kick off the summit’s work sessions and will close the event with remarks around 1:30 on Friday afternoon.

And by the time they leave, we expect all participants will have a clearer picture of just what role natural gas will play in trucking’s future.