You’ve heard of hybrid cars that run on batteries. But what about big trucks that – instead of diesel fuel – burn natural gas. Filling up is changing and giving new meaning to what we call gas stations.
Big, noisy tractor trailer trucks are lining up to fill up at this Love’s Travel Stop on the east side of Houston.
“We’re right in the middle of a bunch of warehouses and trucking yards, about two miles from the Port of Houston,” said Britt Jones, manager of this very busy truck stop.
He walks past pump after pump for diesel fuel. But then, he comes to two pumps that look distinctively new. These pumps have special nozzles because they dispense – not diesel – but compressed natural gas, CNG.
“More and more fleets are going to CNG, a lot of the local delivery companies around here from warehouses to ship yards, they run CNG,” Jones said.
One such fleet is owned by a Houston lumber company that hauls timber out of East Texas. Huey Tyler is one the company’s drivers. He was at the Love’s, pulling his rig up to the CNG pump.
“This is our first year,” Tyler told News 88.7. “So far so good. They run just like the regular trucks, they have the same power. ”
Same as a diesel but there’s one very big and potentially troubling difference: you can find diesel fuel just about anywhere. But what if run out of CNG?
“A lot of the stations don’t have the fuel that we use (but) most of your Love’s do,” Tyler said.
The reason Love’s Travel Stops have CNG pumps is due in part to just how much natural gas is now being produced in Texas and what the state is doing to promote its use.
“We now have a 50, 100, maybe a 200 year supply of natural gas available in the U.S.,” said Tom Tunstall, an economic researcher at the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Fracking and other drilling techniques are unlocking huge deposits of natural gas in the states, lowering and stabilizing the price of natural gas which Tunstall said is making it more attractive as a fuel source.
To increase demand for Texas natural gas, the state spent $21 million to subsidize the building of CNG filling stations on truck routes between Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Tunstall evaluated the grant program for the industry group, America’s Natural Gas Alliance. He said it did what was intended: encouraged more fleets to convert diesel trucks to CNG resulting in tens of millions of dollars for the Texas economy.
“I mean, they’re not huge numbers yet but we’re at the very early stages of the prospect for using more natural gas,” Tunstall said.
Bill Cashmareck is Love’s Houston-based General Manager of Natural Gas. He said the state of Texas gave the company a $300,000 grant to help pay for installing CNG pumps at eight of Love’s stores in Texas.
“We are doing more volume than we originally anticipated,” said Cashmareck. But Love’s also converted 50 of its fleet of 450 tanker trucks to run on CNG. Cashmareck said the company liked that CNG burns cleaner than diesel so it’s better for the environment. But he said the biggest factor was money.
“We figured we could save about a buck a gallon. And our trucks burn a lot of fuel every year. Our trucks are going 150-180,000 miles a year,” Cashmareck said.
In Texas, the state says only about 7,000 vehicles run on natural gas, a mere drop in the tank. But with the state under growing federal pressure to cut ozone, there may be increasing incentives to convert to CNG which emits far less ozone-causing toxics than diesel according to the EPA.