Natural gas vehicles, or NGVs, hold tremendous promise for both the U.S. and the world's future. Not only is natural gas significantly cheaper than oil on an energy-equivalent basis right now, vehicles running on liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) release about 25% less carbon dioxide on average than their gasoline and diesel-powered counterparts.
While the nation as a whole seems energetic about the concept of using alternative fuels to power their vehicles, one state is expected to be a clear standout in facilitating the shift toward NGVs over the next year and a half – Texas.
Texas to lead the way in NGV fueling stations
According to Lynn Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Clean Transportation project, the Lone Star State leads the way in the number of proposed fueling stations for natural gas vehicles. Over the next six to 18 months, the number of refueling stations in Texas supplying LNG, CNG, or both is projected to double, from a little over 60 currently to more than 120.
Of the planned new stations, 23 will supply LNG, while the remaining 39 will be equipped to meet the refueling needs of CNG-powered vehicles. According to Lyons, Texas is poised to lead the way due to a combination of factors, including strong support from the state government and enthusiasm among transportation fleet owners.
However, while Texas plans on adding more stations than any other state over the next year and a half, its current refueling infrastructure pales in comparison to California, which boasts the most refueling stations of any state by far. Of the approximately 70 LNG fueling facilities currently dotting the country, nearly two-thirds are located in the Golden State, as are more than a fifth of the nation's roughly 1200 CNG stations.
According to data from the Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center, a U.S. Department of Energy program initiative, California had 257 CNG stations and 42 LNG stations as of April 25, whereas Texas had 57 CNG stations and nine LNG stations. In fact, Texas currently lags even New York, Oklahoma, and Utah in terms of the number of CNG stations.
Growth in natural gas as transport fuel
The enthusiasm about NGVs stems from the nation's massive supply of natural gas, made possible by radical advances in drilling technologies that have helped unlock a previously inaccessible bounty of shale gas. According to a recent study by PIRA Consulting, U.S. vehicles could use as much as 5 trillion cubic feet of the cleaner-burning fuel by the year 2030.
Another study, by the National Petroleum Council, determined that natural gas vehicles could capture half of the light- and heavy-duty truck market and 35% of the medium-duty market by the year 2050. Already, there has been significant progress in this market, with several companies having invested aggressively in nat-gas-powered trucks.
Natural gas making inroads in trucking
For instance, UPS (NYSE:UPS) recently announced that it will buy about 700 natural gas vehicles by the end of 2014, adding to its current fleet of 112 18-wheelers than run on LNG. The package delivery company said its trucks will use engines manufactured by Cummins (NYSE:CMI), under a joint venture with another engine manufacturer, Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT).
Another major freight services company, FedEx (NYSE:FDX), is also investigating the benefits of natural gas. The company is currently running tests – using two LNG-powered and two CNG-powered trucks – to determine whether or not to convert more of its 90,000 motorized vehicles to run on the cleaner-burning fuel. The company's chairman and CEO, Frederick W. Smith, said he expects 5%-30% of long-distance trucks to run on CNG or LNG over the next decade, as costs fall and the number of fueling stations rises.
One stock to play the shift to NGVs
One company investing heavily in natural gas fueling stations in Texas, as well as across the country, is Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE). The California-based company is the largest provider of natural gas fuel for transportation in North America and already fuels tens of thousands of vehicles every day at various locations across the United States and Canada.
"We're building out a national network of LNG stations that will allow truckers to travel pretty much from coast to coast and border to border. And we're filling in some of the other major routes, such as the Texas Triangle," said Gary Foster, a spokesman for the company. Clean Energy boasts both LNG and CNG fueling stations, many of which are located strategically at truck stops across the country, including a handful in Houston and the Dallas-Forth Worth area, and one or two in Austin.