Navigant Research Blog

Liquefied Natural Gas Gains Trucker Appeal

— September 9, 2015

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) has had the advantage of being a cleaner, less expensive fuel, but its limited availability and longer payback period for equipment has hindered its use in medium and heavy duty vehicles.

Due to its increasing supply, the cost of natural gas fuel has dropped by 50% since 2008. This, in addition to recent changes in the IRS code, has further increased the value proposition for natural gas as a transportation fuel. Natural gas proponents have long complained about the inequity of how the tax code has treated LNG, which was taxed by volume rather than by its energy value. Because a gallon of LNG has 42% less energy by volume than diesel, the effective tax rate was much higher, which put the retail price of the fuels closer together.

Good News for LNG Fleets

On July 31, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 3236, a transportation bill that changed the tax code to tax both LNG and propane at the same rate per diesel gallon equivalent, according to NGTNews. For LNG, the tax drops by 41%, which will increase the monthly savings for fleet operators when switching from diesel.

Even before the tax change, Navigant Research anticipated that the number of LNG refueling stations in the United States is likely to nearly double by 2020 to more than 210, according to the recently published report, Natural Gas Vehicle Refueling Infrastructure. With the lower cost of the LNG fuel, more fleets will consider installing refueling stations and converting their trucks.

The supply of LNG in North America will continue to flow sufficiently. According to Victoria News, the government of Quebec approved the building of an LNG plant in Becancour. Similarly, the Goldboro LNG terminal in Halifax, Nova Scotia received government approval to start exporting LNG. According to CTV, it is expected to receive natural gas via pipeline from the United States.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy reversed its policy to allow LNG to be exported, which has excited interest in supplying and liquefying the fuel. Several LNG export terminals are being either reopened or opened in the United States, including in Port Arthur, Texas and in Cameron Parish, Louisiana. Feeding both domestic and foreign markets with LNG is unlikely to be a problem due to the extensive shale deposits in North America and the increased use of hydraulic fracturing.

 

Honda Switches from NGV Civic to Supplying CNG

— August 28, 2015

For more than 16 years, Honda Motor Co. was one of the leading proponents of natural gas as a transportation fuel in North America. From 1998 through 2015, four generations of the compact Civic sedan were available with a factory-installed compressed natural gas (CNG)-fueled powertrain. However, despite being one of the best-selling cars in North America, the CNG Civic never caught on and was discontinued earlier this year. Fortunately, Honda has not given up entirely on CNG and has refocused its efforts as a supplier of CNG to its own parts suppliers.

CNG Refueling Station

Recognizing that the natural gas vehicle (NGV) market in North America consists primarily of fleet and commercial customers rather than individual car owners, Honda recently opened a CNG refueling station at its Marysville, Ohio campus. Marysville is the site of Honda’s first and largest North American automotive assembly plant, as well as the headquarters of Honda R&D America. With a capacity of 440,000 vehicles a year, the Marysville plant is one of the largest in North America, receiving hundreds of deliveries every day. This made Marysville an ideal location for the first CNG refueling station at any of Honda’s North America facilities. The fast-fill CNG refueling station was designed, constructed, and is being operated by Chicago-based Trillium CNG, one of the leading developers of CNG refueling infrastructure.

“We designed the station to accommodate 2.5 million gallons per year,” said Honda spokesman Eric Mauk. “It is currently fueling over 1.0 million gallons per year and that translates to 75-80 fueling events per day. At 2.5 million gallons per year we would expect to see roughly 200 fueling events daily.”

According to Navigant Research’s Natural Gas Refueling Infrastructure report, the total number of CNG refueling stations in North America is projected to grow to only a little more than 1,800 over the next 10 years from 1,560 today, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7%. Globally, the number of stations is projected to grow at 4.0% over the same time period.

Benefits for Fleets

The drop in world prices and corresponding reduction in gasoline and diesel retail prices is expected to suppress interest in natural gas for personal use vehicles for the foreseeable future. However, fleet trucks that frequently accumulate 100,000-plus miles annually can still benefit from a switch to natural gas, something that Honda is hoping to stimulate by offering convenient and fast CNG refueling to its suppliers when they are making deliveries. Honda estimates that more than 100 suppliers in the area could make use of the facility, driving 20 million miles annually on CNG. That would save nearly 20 million pounds of carbon monoxide annually compared to running on diesel. This is particularly beneficial for smaller suppliers that may not have fleets large enough to support the investment in their CNG refueling equipment. The refueling station is also open to the public so that anyone in the Marysville area is welcome to use the facility.

Other companies that receive many deliveries daily could also help stimulate demand for CNG by installing refueling infrastructure for their vendor community. Depending on where they are located, they could even take advantage of landfill gas for further environmental benefits. BMW already uses landfill gas to provide half of the power needs for its Spartanburg, South Carolina factory. If sufficient gas was available, it could be used as transportation fuel as well. Innovative approaches like Honda’s CNG station will be needed to keep advancing natural gas as a transportation fuel.

 

For Trucks, LNG versus CNG Debate Rages On

— April 4, 2014

Whether liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) will fuel the trucks of the future in North America has been an open question for some time.  The stakes are high because the cost structure and infrastructure needed for the two fuels are significantly different.  The fuel tanks and fuel delivery system for natural gas trucks are more expensive for LNG than for CNG.  On the infrastructure side, LNG is distributed much like oil products are now: produced in a central location and trucked to retailers.  CNG is most often distributed through the gas grid to the retail location (though some trucking of CNG does occur).

This equates to LNG being much more capital-intensive than CNG.  Yet, LNG has advantages over CNG.  Trucks can store more LNG in a smaller space, which typically equates to either longer truck range or the same fuel in a smaller volume package than CNG trucks.  Because the energy density of LNG is higher, it has often been spoken of as the better fuel for over-the-road (OTR) trucks.

Controversy Rages On

This controversy has given new fodder for Seeking Alpha, the investor advice website.  Seeking Alpha has had a running narrative on the problems with Clean Energy Fuels Corp.’s strategy in the LNG market.  The press on the site contributed to CEO Andrew Littlefair’s update on the industry, which was in reality a thinly veiled response to investor nervousness surrounding LNG.  While most of the press on Seeking Alpha about Clean Energy Fuels has been decidedly negative, competing stock picking website The Motley Fool has analysis with a more positive spin.  Motley Fool commentators have pointed out that Clean Energy Fuels is not solely an LNG provider; it also has significant CNG investment, as well as LNG interests outside the trucking industry (specifically in the marine and rail industries).

From Navigant Research’s perspective, LNG in heavy duty trucks and buses has always seemed likely to be a niche fuel.  While growth is anticipated, CNG is likely to see faster growth and remain a much larger market.  The main reason comes down to costs.  The cost of LNG trucks is significantly higher than that of CNG trucks and the fuel costs more as well, so the incremental cost payback period is at least double that of the CNG trucks.  Additionally, the advantages of LNG trucks are insignificant when compared to CNG trucks.  Vehicle range for the two is almost identical.  CNG does take somewhat longer to refuel (though, as noted in many of the Seeking Alpha articles, this advantage is shrinking) and drivers’ hours of service rules may limit these concerns anyway, since drivers must take more breaks than in the past.

All this said, LNG does make sense in cases where trucks are being used in consistent, high mileage routes, and therefore the fuel seems unlikely to disappear – particularly in areas where LNG liquefaction plants already exist, such as near natural gas electricity turbines, ports, or rail yards.

Total Annual LNG and CNG Heavy Duty Truck Sales, North America: 2013-2022

Total Annual LNG and CNG Heavy Duty Truck Sales, North America

(Source: Navigant Research)

Navigant Research has estimated that the investment in LNG refueling infrastructure slightly outpaces CNG worldwide ($1.31 billion and $1.27 billion, respectively, in 2013).  The liquefaction plants (not included in those figures) are more difficult to pin down, since these facilities are often not targeted specifically at transportation and vary significantly by production size.  However, GE has supplied financing of $200 million for two LNG production facilities, giving an indication of facility costs.  The liquefaction plant market seems likely to be more focused on electricity production, rather than transportation, which could put the liquefaction facilities investments that are targeting vehicle refueling at more risk.  So, as controversies go, this one does have huge implications for investors.

 

Waiting for the Methane Hydrates Boom

— November 20, 2013

Even as the heralded natural gas energy revolution is still gearing up, the natural gas vehicle industry may be looking ahead to the next revolution.  While shale gas is having a significant impact on U.S. energy economics, some in the natural gas truck and bus industry are already eyeing the potential that methane hydrates could secure natural gas as the energy source for transportation in the 21st century.

During the research for my upcoming report, Natural Gas Trucks and Buses, methane hydrates came up twice in conversations, which made me curious as to how real this prospect is.  Methane hydrate (also known as methane calthrate) is methane trapped inside a water molecule, so that the molecule is flammable.  Estimates for the quantity of methane available in methane hydrates vary widely, from 100,000 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 100 million tcf of methane.  Worldwide methane consumption was 113 tcf in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  As my colleague Sam Jaffe wrote in a recent blog, though, the methane hydrates revolution is far from a certainty due to environmental and economic concerns, as well as a lack of mining infrastructure.

The Next Revolution?

The Canadians, rich in shale gas, ended their research into methane hydrates this year, which makes the Japanese the leader in R&D on mining technologies.  In March of this year, Japan produced 120,000 cubic meters of gas from methane hydrates in a 6-day offshore test.  On October 31, the Japanese officially requested that the U.S. collaborate on developing mining technologies, with a target of production beginning in 2018 or 2019.

In terms of politics and energy consumption, 2018 seems like a long way off.  But natural gas power plants can take up to 3 years from design, approval, and construction to operation, and most vehicle manufacturers are already planning or actively working on 2017 model year vehicles.  That’s why methane hydrates are coming up in conversations now.

What isn’t clear is whether the research into methane hydrates mining can get political support before the shale gas revolution has run its course or before biomethane and coal seam gas become economically competitive.  Clearly, in Canada, the answer is no.  Now that methane hydrates are known to exist and have been proven technically minable, countries with the means and needs for new energy sources (Japan, Germany, South Korea, and perhaps even China) are likely to push ahead to improve the economics of this potential new revolution.  If methane hydrates can be recovered in an environmentally sustainable and economically viable way, they are unlikely to remain underwater for long.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Natural Gas Vehicles","path":"\/tag\/natural-gas-vehicles","date":"12\/16\/2017"}