It will also take time for such an energy transition—from diesel to liquefied natural gas—to occur, requiring the build-out of refueling infrastructure, new vehicles and new plants to convert natural gas to liquid fuel. "I'm not aware of a current LNG engine product that completely gives you the performance of a diesel engine product, allowing a loaded class 8 truck to go over the Rocky Mountains in the same way a diesel would," DoE's Davis notes. "It is something that is going to take quite a bit of time, but we believe investments in LNG technology could yield substantial benefits in terms of using domestic energy sources and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
Already, engine manufacturers such as Navistar have promised a full range of natural gas–burning engines, up to 450 horsepower, by mid-2013. And large-truck fleet owners are beginning to make the switch, ranging from Waste Management, which now buys almost exclusively natural gas–powered trucks, to parcel delivery companies. In part of its bid to reduce the company's use of six million liters of petroleum annually, FedEx plans to have its first prototype long-haul trucks burning LNG on the road this summer.
When it comes to the personal vehicle market, any natural gas cars would have to compete with electric cars such as the Chevy Volt, but the two alternative fuel options may be more similar than different. "An EV is a kind of natural gas vehicle," noted Edwin Feo, a managing partner at USRG Renewable Finance, at the Bloomberg summit on March 21. "It's just turned to electricity first."
In the meantime Clean Energy plans to invest with partners some $450 million in building its network of 150 natural gas refueling stations, including two in Atlanta. Georgia will also host natural gas refueling stations in Dalton and Tifton. "We will be at truck stops on the Interstate," Roche says, noting that the company also owns two plants in California and Texas that can create around 1.3 million liters of LNG per day. "The goal is to give [truckers] the same experience as when they get diesel fuel."