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Natural gas infrastructure taking shape

For many years, experts predicted a slow transition to alternative fuel vehicles until the U.S. infrastructure could offer sufficient support. It looks like the day when we can say “we have the infrastructure” is no longer very far away. From increased production of various natural gas fuels and vehicles to growth in the number of fueling facilities and even emergency responder training specific to natural gas vehicles, the infrastructure to support alt-fuel vehicles is beginning to take shape.

For example, a significant change in regulations was announced this week: New York State lifted a longtime ban on liquefied natural gas (LNG), and its program for granting permits for the construction and operation of LNG facilities is the most comprehensive in the country. Albany’s Department of Environmental Conservation said that as a result, “LNG will be available to haulers as a cleaner burning alternative to diesel fuel.” They expect that for the first five years, nearly all of the permit applications will be for facilities designed to supply fuel for long-haul tractor trailers and large capacity fleet trucks.

Similarly, a study recently released by Transparency Market Research predicts thecompressed natural gas (CNG) market to grow 12.3% from 2014 to 2020. CNG is emerging as one of the most viable options among the “clean” fuels. Consumption of CNG directly depends upon the number of CNG powered natural gas vehicles in operation. While light-duty CNG vehicles are most prevalent in the market, heavy-duty truck fleet owners are finding it increasingly profitable to convert their existing vehicles to CNG.

The same can be said for propane fleet vehicles. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. has recently begun offering additional configurations of its propane autogas vocational work truck. Freightliner began full production after the 2014 Work Truck Show, where it showcased an S2G unit outfitted with a flatbed and crane on its back to demonstrate the unit’s application versatility. Its newest version is a box truck recently provided to a California delivery fleet.

Evidence that more and more natural gas vehicles are hitting the roads can be seen in Pennsylvania where a statewide program is planned to train first responders on hazards of natural gas vehicles, which require different techniques when battling fires or crashes. The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened three natural gas fueling dispensers at its New Stanton service plaza in November because of its high volume of truck traffic. Since then, the dispensers have continued to be “moderately busy.” Therefore, fire officials across the state have initiated the training program for local firefighters and rescue workers.

These developments are encouraging and an indication that the challenges that had been in place for the wider adoption of alternative fuel vehicles are beginning to be overcome.