Exploring the Role of Natural Gas in U.S. Trucking

The recent emergence of natural gas as an abundant, inexpensive fuel in the United States could prompt a momentous shift in the level of natural gas utilized in the transportation sector. The cost advantage of natural gas vis-à-vis diesel fuel is particularly appealing for vehicles with a high intensity of travel and thus fuel use. Natural gas is already a popular fuel for municipal and fleet vehicles such as transit buses and taxis. In this paper, we investigate the possibility that natural gas could be utilized to provide fuel cost savings, geographic supply diversity and environmental benefits for the heavy-duty trucking sector and whether it can enable a transition to lower carbon transport fuels. We find that a small, cost-effective intervention in markets could support a transition to a commercially sustainable natural gas heavy-duty fueling system in the state of California and that this could also advance some of the state’s air quality goals. Our research shows that an initial advanced natural gas fueling system in California could facilitate the expansion to other U.S. states. Such a network would enable a faster transition to renewable natural gas or biogas and waste-to-energy pathways. Stricter efficiency standards for natural gas Class 8 trucks and regulation of methane leakage along the natural gas supply chain would be necessary for natural gas to contribute substantially to California’s climate goals as a trucking fuel. To date, industry has favored less expensive technologies that do not offer the highest level of environmental performance.

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