Elements of the transportation sector are starting to warm to natgas vehicles – in what could be a sign of things to come.
In Pennsylvania – home to the massive Marcellus Formation that accounts for more than 7 billion cubic feet of gas per day – the state has invested $10 million in grants to incentivize projects "which will convert or purchase natural gas vehicles weighing less than 14,000 pounds, as well as convert or purchase" other environmentally-friendly vehicles.
"The idea there is to bridge this gap to make natural gas fueling stations available to the public," said Michael Krancer, a lawyer who heads Blank Rome's energy practice and the state's former environmental protection chief.
Calling it a "chicken and egg situation" where the public won't flock to natgas unless they have ways to power their vehicles, Krancer said that fueling stations, along with government incentives that factor in natgas-powered vehicles into fuel efficiency standards, would be key to "unlocking" the natgas market to everyday consumers.
"It is all unfolding in front of our eyes right now. It is happening and it might be perceived as being slow, but it is happening," Krancer said.
Andrew Littlefair, president and CEO of Clean Energy Fuels, a network of natural gas stations that cater specifically to truck fleets, said the passenger applications of natural gas are limited.
"You really can't think about the 118,000 gas stations servicing the gas market, because we don't have makes and models (of natgas) cars," Littlefair said. "Its really a fleet business."
Yet given the growing adoption of natgas vehicles in mass transit and trash hauling, the day could arrive when natural gas stations rival the ubiquity of regular gasoline outposts. According to Littlefair, about 30 percent of the transit buses nationwide are now powered by natural gas, while 65 percent of new trash haulers — which consumes about 2 billion gallons of gas annually — run on natural gas.