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What If The Trucking Industry Dumped Diesel?

Diesel Liquid vs. Natural Gas

Text By Jason Thompson, Photography by The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

If you follow the trucking and energy industries, you already know about the natural gas bubble that has been forming. Thanks to government support that began with the Carter administration (and continues into the Obama administration), exotic extraction methods to collect natural gas (such as fracking) were invented and are now carried out on private and federal lands on a massive scale across North America.

These unconventional sources are helping to boost domestic energy production and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It’s been said that these new natural gas sources might help us with energy freedom for a generation—or two. Right now, our liquid natural gas (LNG) is mostly imported in foreign manned super tankers from Trinidad, Tobago, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Qatar—with Russia and Iran having the greatest potential to benefit from LNG production in the near future. We have 12 LNG import and export facilities in the United States, but dozens more are expected to pop up on our coasts. Since many indicators point to the trucking industry making the switch to natural gas, it may mean more diesel fuel for our pickups and cars. This rosy natural gas picture does have a few drawbacks that are rarely mentioned, however.

The True Cost of LNG
In order to store an adequate amount of LNG on a semitruck, it has to be refrigerated to cryogenic levels (-256 degrees). A big rig LNG truck is said to cost about $70,000 more than a comparable diesel version. For example, in the Port of Long Beach, an LNG-burning Kenworth T800 ISX-G costs $197,000. But taxpayer subsidies pick up $105,000 of that cost. Right now, natural gas is cheaper than diesel, but speculation will probably change that, according to some economic experts. The biggest cost of LNG has to do with public safety. Fox News reported in 2004, “A terror attack on a tanker delivering LNG at a United States port could set off a fire so hot it would burn skin and damage buildings a mile away.” Many of these ports are going to be built in high-population areas like Boston and Los Angeles. The true cost of LNG would take into account the increased security needs to defend these vessels from submarine, speed boat, or rocket-propelled grenade attacks.

Another downside to vehicles powered by natural gas is the engines (currently on the table) are not as efficient at turning fuel into work as diesels are. This is because they have a low compression ratio. They will also have expensive spark plugs that foul and will need to be replaced. As we’ve said before, natural gas can be turned into a liquid diesel fuel—a much better choice.

“Al-Qaeda had a naval manual describing how to turn LNG tankers into floating bombs.”
Cindy Hurst (Political-Military Research Analyst with the Foreign Military Studies Office and Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve)

By Jason Thompson
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