DON’T LOOK NOW, BUT NATURAL GAS MAY BE FALLING OUT OF FAVOUR
April 15, 2014
I could fill a book the size of a George R.R. Martin novel (and if you’re not watching or reading Game of Thrones, you should be) with what I’ve written about natural gas over the past three years. But for the first time, the...
I could fill a book the size of a George R.R. Martin novel (and if you’re not watching or reading Game of Thrones, you should be) with what I’ve written about natural gas over the past three years. But for the first time, the enthusiasm about the inexpensive alt-fuel is beginning to fade. In fact, we’re starting to hear that in long-haul applications at least, it may not be as viable an alternative to diesel as we’d all hoped.
I submit to you Exhibit A:Daimler’s Wolfgang Bernhard, telling an HDMA audience that natural gas is still far from a viable substitute for diesel in long-haul applications. This despite the fact Daimler has done very well in capitalizing on the increased interest natural gas has generated.
And here’s Exhibit B: Bison’s very publicly expressed (Reuters??!!) disappointment in the fuel – or more specifically, the poor reliability of the Westport GX engines that power its fleet of 15 LNG trucks. Ouch. This one hurts the nat-gas movement.
Couple that with Westport’s decision to discontinue production of its 15L natural gas engine and Cummins’ decision to “pause” development of its 15L, and suddenly you have to wonder if the slow move towards natural gas is already sputtering out. I hate to say it, but it almost seems like natural gas has followed the same hype curve as hybrids. About five years ago, hybrid commercial vehicles were all the rage and then interest fizzled and the buzz was displaced with talk about cheap and abundant natural gas.
But consider this. When I was at TMC in March, a panel on hybrids revealed the technology – while not nearly as sexy as it once was – still provides significant fuel savings when placed into the appropriate duty-cycles. We heard from municipal fleets that were saving 20-30% in fuel through the use of hybrid-electric and hydraulic hybrid powertrains. The technology works – but it’s not for everyone. I guess that’s what we’re experiencing with natural gas as well.
In regional haul, return-to-base applications, natural gas will remain viable. Long-haul? Maybe the technology and infrastructure isn’t ready to accommodate long-haul. Maybe it will be someday, and maybe it won’t. The reeling back of product, the slow growth of infrastructure and the disillusionment of early adopters have raised new doubts about whether or not natural gas will ever be a viable alternative to diesel in long-haul applications.
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